Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Soul Brothers

When I read this article I responded as follows:

Bobby, a really engaging and interesting article if you are interested in the subject (and I know you are).

Anyone else interested? I'm going to post a link to my blog for further discussion.

The discussion of Roko’s Basilisk is very amusing, while still frightening in potenia.

I must agree with a key point of the article, which is that from an outsider's view, there are surprising levels of similarity between the "religionist" and "transhumanist" positions. I see the both of them as different sides of the same coin. To put that in extreme focus terms, think of the Hitler versus Stalin situation in the 30s. Every Communist and every Nazi would declare with utter passion that they were the exact opposite of each other, eternal enemies with totally different visions of the future. Yet outsiders saw little difference between the societies they created -- secret police, torture, mass murder, propaganda, ad infinitum.

As regards this article I see both sides as deeply emotionalist and anti-rationalist. Each believes that their cause so profoundly that any criticism is seen as beyond the pale. In short, even the supposedly rational side is deeply faith based.

I find the whole concept of uploading oneself quite interesting. I also find it deeply flawed. Here are a few of the issues:

What exactly is meant by "consciousness"? The way it's described by transhumanists is identical to the soul. From a strictly rational view, whatever consciousness may exist, it must arise within the structure of the brain itself. There is no ghost in the machine, the two are inseparable, indeed identical. And yet transhumanists refer to their consciousness exactly in the same way that the religious refer to the soul. It is an awareness, and existence, a state of being entirely separate from physical reality.

This could be referred to as the Star Trek transporter problem. The transporter disassembles you, copying your patterns in the process and then sends the information in a datastream to a receiving transporter which rebuilds "you". But you have destroyed your brain. Your consciousness is gone. What you have created is a copy of yourself which, because it has your memories, thinks it is you. Even in the Star Trek universe this problem was acknowledged because occasionally there is a transporter accident in which multiple copies of a person are made. Starfleet regards all those copies as the original person even though we now have multiple "original persons".

The same issue arises with a copy of your intelligence. Once it's copied into machine form, into a computer state of zeros and ones, it could be copied indefinitely. So if we destroy your brain to copy it and then upload it into 1 million computer systems, there are now 1 million original yous. Each one will insist that it is in fact the actual real you and the others are the false ones. But in fact the real you will have been destroyed along with your brain, unless you accept the concept of a separate consciousness, a separate soul which is not depend upon the physical brain.

And then there's the problem of reprogramming. What if somebody hacks the new you? A teenage kid is bored and hacks the system decides to turn you into a… Who knows what? When she changes your data programming, it will change you. You can be turned into a monster, or a maniac, a saintly prophet; anything the hacker programs in, that will be the new you.

So the question quickly becomes, is that you at all? Was it ever you?

And let's never forget Roko’s Basilisk. The transhumanist view here is one of a perfect world which everybody is nice and everybody is good and no one will ever do anything bad or wrong. I find that unlikely.

Once you have become a computer program you would be helpless. Anyone who has retained their body (or perhaps become a cyborg) and is outside the system and can hack into it and do whatever they want to you. Imagine a Hitler, Stalin, or even any number of average personalities having complete control over not only you but the entire universe you inhabit.

I'm going to refer to the Heechee series again. All these issues are dealt with in novel form, including that emergency services may "save" your life by uploading you into a computer program if a disaster renders you unconscious and unable to continue to live in your body. If you have good health insurance you will now live wonderful life. If you don't, they make you pay back the debt by enslaving your program and selling it to whoever cares to bid on it.

As scary as the future is, and I'm certain it will have its horrors, I believe it will be better than things are now. However, I am forced to admit that that is a matter of faith.