Henry van Eyken wrote:
> The idea of downloading brains has been around a long time. One of the places, they
> were dreaming about this sort of thing was MIT.
> Computer modelling of human thought processes, even notions of free will (oh, how
> brave to speak of the free!) is one thing. (Ref. Johnson-Laird, The computer and
> the mind, 1988!) Direct electronic communication with locals in the brain is
> another. But down/uploading "whole brains," ... humbug.
I agree but for slightly different reasons.
Here is something I posted on Slashdot about this:
Many of Kurzweil's points are similar to Bill Joy's. The difference is
the conclusion. Kurzweil has a rosy view that we will be able to
download ourselves into the network. If you disagree that this is
plausible, then his book defines a similar
extinction scenario as Bill Joy's comments.
In my opinion, Kurweil's analysis of the evolutionary dynamics of a
world wide web of downloaded humans is flawed because it ignores
fundamental aspects of ecology and evolution. Specifically, here are two
issues about his conclusion:
a) it assumes humans in a different environment will still act human
with classical human motivations (as opposed to dissolve into an
unrecognizable set of bits or simply locking in a pleasure loop) because
to a large extent environment elicits behavior, and
b) it ignores evolution and its implications in the digital realm
(especially the enhanced pace of evolution in such a network and the
implications for survival).
Of these, the most important is (b).
Evolution is a powerful process. Humans have evolved to fit a niche in
the world -- given a certain environment which includes a 3D reality and
various other organisms (including humans). Humans have an immune
systems (both mental and physical) capable of dealing with common
intellectual and organismal pathogenic threats in their environment.
There is no easy way to translate this to success in a digital
environment, because the digital environment will imply different
rewards and punishments for various behavior, and evolve predators and
parasites which these immune systems have never been exposed to before.
Human style intelligence is valuable in a human context for many reasons
-- but sophisticated intelligence is not necessarily a key survival
feature in other niches (say, smaller ones the size of roaches, hydra or
bacteria). In short, the human way of thinking will be inadequate for
survival in the digital realm. Even augmented minds that are connected
to the network will face these threats and likely be unable to survive
them. Kurzweil discusses the importance of anti-viral precautions in his
book, but I think he is rosily optimistic about this particular aspect.
At best, one might in the short term construct digital environments for
digital humans to live in, and defend these environments. However, both
digitized human minds and immensely larger digitized human worlds will
be huge compared to the smallest amount of code that can be self
replicating. These digital "bacteria" will consume these digital human
minds and worlds because the human minds and worlds will be constructed,
not evolved. Human minds will be at a competitive disadvantage with
smaller, quicker replicating code. Nor will there be any likelihood of a
meaningful merger of human mind with these evolved and continually
I could endlessly elaborate on this theme, but in short -- I find it
highly unlikely that any mind designed to work well in meatspace will be
optimal for cyberspace. It will be overwhelmed and quickly passed by in
an evolutionary sense (and consumed for space and runtime). It is likely
this will happen within years of digitization (but possibly minutes or
hours or seconds). As an example experiment, create large programs
(>10K) in Ray's Tierra and see how long they last!
Our best human attempts at designing digital carriers (even using
evolutionary algorithms) will fail because of the inherent
uncompetetiveness of clunky meatspace brain designs optimized for one
environment and finding themselves in the digital realm. For a rough
analog, consider how there is an upper limit of size to active creatures
in 3D meatspace for a certain ecology. While something might survive
somehow derived from pieces of a digitized person, it will not resemble
that person to any significant degree. This network will be an alien
environment and the creatures that live in it will be an alien life
form. One might be able to negotiate with some of them at some point in
their evolution citing the commonality of evolved intelligence as a bond
-- but humanity may have ceased to exist by then.
In short, I agree with the exponential theme in Kurzweil's book and the
growth of a smart network. We differ as to the implication of this. I
think people (augmented or not) will be unable to survive in that
digital world he predicts for any significant time period. Further,
digital creatures inhabiting this network may be at odds or indifferent
to human survival, yet human civilization will likely develop in such a
way that it is dependent on this network. The best one can hope for in
the digital realm is "mind children" with little or no connection to the
parents -- but the link will be as tenuous as a person's relation to a
well cultivated strain of Brewer's yeast, since the most competetive
early digital organisms will be tiny.
Once you start working from that premise -- the impossibility of people
surviving in the digital world of 2050, then Kurweil's book becomes a
call to action, just like Bill Joy's comments. I don't think it is
possible to stop this process for all the reasons both people mention.
It is my goal to create a technological alternative to this failure
scenario. That alternative is macroscopic self-replicating (space)
However, they are no panacea. Occupants of such habitats will have to
continually fight the self-replicating and self-extending network jungle
for materials, space, and power. (Sounds like the making of a sci-fi
thriller...) And they may well fail against the overwhelming odds of an
expanding digital network without conscience or morality. Just look at
Saberhagen's Beserker series http://www.berserker.com/ or the Terminator
It will be difficult for Kurweil to change his opinion on this because
he have been heavily rewarded for riding the digital wave. He was making
money building reading machines before I bought my first computer -- a
Kim-I. But, I think someday the contradiction may become apparent of
thinking the road to spiritual enlightenment can come from material
competition (a point in his book which deserves much further
elaboration). To the extent material competition drives the development
of the digital realm the survival of humanity is in doubt.
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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Mar 30 2000 - 08:23:19 PST