Re: Multiple Future Bens

From: Samantha Atkins (
Date: Sat Jan 11 2003 - 01:41:17 MST

Late to this thread but it looks interesting enough.

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> I'm not going to write my own thoughts on this subject. Talking about
> post-Singularity life tends to devour people's souls and I was always
> taught that was impolite. Yes, sometimes I dream. But I know I'm
> dreaming. Some people seem under the impression they're awake.
> What is it that you want?

First, to know what exactly it is that I want even if I could
have everything I can imagine. Eash think that I can think of
doesn't seem to be "it" by the time I have conceived of it. I
would like to know what it is that drives me.

> What is it that you are trying to accomplish with all these
> technological tricks and toys?
> Whatever it is you're really wishing for, you can be sure that the kind
> of gadgetry dreamed up by human science fiction writers - even the very
> best science fiction writers like Greg Egan - is not the best way to go
> about it. We notice our technology because it's clumsy. Because the
> technology is so awkward that it is visible, and has visible side
> effects, and imposes visible constraints on what can be accomplished by
> it. Nanotechnology and utility fog may be able to build a flying carpet;
> current technology leaves us with airplanes; an upload just is where
> they want to be. To a medieval scholar the only understandable
> difference between nanotechnology and femtotechnology is that one can
> turn lead into gold, and the other can't; and there's no distinction at
> all between femtotechnology and chromotechnology because the medieval
> scholar doesn't know enough to invent a task that chromotechnology can
> perform but femtotechnology can't. Sufficiently advanced technology is
> *very* distinguishable from magic. Magic is just as awkward as
> insufficiently advanced technology.

One of the best visions of what could be that goes beyond a bit
of the "gadget stage" that I have encountred lately is in John C
Wright's "The Golden Age". Of course I am not far into it.
I'll see if it holds up. I am not sure it really touches "why?"

Many of us "techies" are seriously driven to make the tech less
and less clunky, too push the envelop towards seamlessness then
push again when that is no longer seamless enough. Why? That I
am not sure of.

> And so we have the odd concept of cyborgs. Of neural links to computer
> systems. Of humanoid robot bodies.

All good advances from now but not ends. Steps along the way.
Means. Temporary make-shifts.

> The future will not be science fiction because it will have no buttons
> to press.

Quite a bit of sci-fi has no buttons or at least not so obvious.

> And faced with that possibility, people tend to panic, and fall back on
> comforting habits learned from the cozy books of childhood. It can be
> dizzying to confront the question "But what, exactly, do you actually
> want?" once the crutch of wishing for gadgetry is stripped away.

Sure. But it is the honest question.

> But let's ask anyway. Forget about the toys. What is it that you want?
> Forget about the technology. What are the patterns in reality that you
> are trying to alter?
> The pattern of yourself.
> You are not your body. But you can't see the inside of your mind. You
> can't see the kind of improvements that are really worthwhile. You
> can't imagine changing yourself, so you imagine changing your body instead.

On the contrary, I can imagine quite drastic changes of
"myself". Changing the body is a poor substitute, an aid at best.

> Perhaps the first thing that changes will be your ability to understand
> change, and the changes you want to make.

I would hope so but I am not yet convinced it will be so.

> The SF plots that have been posted to this thread don't look to me like
> changes at all, just running in the same place, because they don't alter
> any of the things I have learned to see as important. It seems like
> displacement activities for deeper wishes that are harder to verbalize.
> Has anyone here said "I wish to be happy", or "I wish that it didn't
> take so much effort just to exist", or "I wish I understood reality and
> my place in it", in among the dreams of cloning and robot bodies?

I wish for the latter and that I understood what is possible for
  me/us to be and what difference it makes. I wish to
understand what calls me and seemingly will never let me find
any lesser place of rest. Perhaps I have some bug that will
never let me rest content ever. It remains to be seen.

> I don't know if what matters is the journey or the destination. I don't
> know if the philosophy of the trip is to stop and smell the flowers, or
> race for the light as fast as possible. In the first case, I might have
> some small idea of who I'll be immediately afterward, though I consider
> it unhealthy to spend too much time thinking about it. In the second
> case, I think little or nothing can be said at all. To spend too much
> time thinking about slow paths is to forget that you don't know whether
> the path will be fast or slow.

Yes. Another way of saying you don't know what the end is or if
there ever can be one.

> People contemplating the slow path lose their objectivity and begin
> spinning fantasy scenarios in which the entire course of technological
> progress ends up stretched over a thousand years or whatever. If humans
> end up walking down the slow path, and smelling the flowers, it will be
> because some Friendly AI blazed a trail all the way to the end, just to
> make sure that there are no dangers that slowly blossoming humans
> wouldn't see.

I do not agree this is the only way this could happen.

> No gamma-ray bursts, exploding galaxies, decaying laws of
> physics, hostile superintelligences, what-have-you. Even if the
> greatest amount of fun comes from stopping to smell the flowers, there
> has to be at least one sentience who sacrifices leisure and burns for
> the light as fast as possible.

This does not follow.

> Otherwise we might end up prey for
> anything that we weren't smart enough to know about.

Or not. Sheer dumb luck has apparently got us this far. :-)

> If we end up doing
> this the slow way, it'll be because whichever sentience blazed the trail
> (a Friendly seed AI or its heir, I expect) comes back and says: "It's
> safe, and desirable, to stop and smell the flowers."
> To summarize the parts of this that I consider it polite to talk about:

What are the impolite portions like?

> 1) We don't know whether it's the journey or the destination;
> 2) Even if it is the journey that counts, and not the destination, I
> expect at least one sentient mind will blaze a trail for the rest;
> 3) And as a result of that superintelligence being around, anyone
> making a slow journey will do so without any visible gadgetry, because
> only clumsy technology is visible.

How does (3) follow? To be slow doesn't the tech have to be
relatively clumsy?

> So if you're thinking that what you want involves chrome and steel,
> lasers and shiny buttons to press, neural interfaces, nanotechnology, or
> whatever great groaning steam engine has a place in your heart, you need
> to stop writing a science fiction novel with yourself as the main
> character, and ask yourself who you want to be.

I think it includes many of these things - until it doesn't need
to. But the question of who/what we want to be is of course
extremely important. All the tech and magic of whatever
sophistication will not mean a lot without facing that.

- samantha

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