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Sunday, July 29, 2012

THE UNIVERSE IS CONTINUING


A brief fictional dialogue to brighten up your July ....


A:
So, I understand that, in a quest to get new insights into how to guide the Singularity in a positive direction for everyone, you took a massive dose of acid and queried the universe for inspiration?

B:
Yes, that's right.  A massive dose of liquid acid, to the tune of Scriabin's "Prometheus."  On my friend's new psychedelic seastead, well out into international waters.  He brews the stuff there and you take it out there -- beyond the jurisdiction of any government, so it's all totally legal.

A: 
Wow.

B: 
Wow indeed.  Of course, there's always the risk of some pirates or military gunboats popping up to ruin the party.  But nothing like that has happened so far.

A: 
Well that's good.  Enjoy it while it lasts, I guess.

B: 
Precisely

A: 
So -- what insights did the universe have for you?  Anything you can can share with us, back here on the boring old plane of everyday reality?

B: 
Heh…  Well, in a sense I guess.  But, you may not like the message….

A: 
Stop toying with me, O Great One!   Come on, shoot…

B:
OK, well… so, we tried to focus the trip on the Singularity, right?  We were trying to use that state of mind to get insight into Friendly AGI, paths to Singularity, and so forth….

A: 
But you kept getting distracted by the dolphins doing flips on the wave next-door?

B:
No… there were no distractions.  We were pretty fast outside the physical realm of being, right up close to the pulsing heart of being.   But the overwhelming message we got from the pulsing heart of being was simply: "YES, THE UNIVERSE IS CONTINUING" ... i.e. "YES, THE UNIVERSE IS CONTINUING TO REVOLUTIONIZE ITSELF, THAT'S WHAT IT DOES" ... i.e. "YES, THE UNIVERSE IS CONTINUING TO REVOLUTIONIZE ITSELF, THAT'S WHAT IT DOES, IF YOU LOOK AT IT FROM THE VIEW OF A LINEAR FLOW OF TIME" ....

In other words, what we're thinking of as "Singularity" is just yet another manifestation of the under/over-lying "enlightenment" that is already immanent in the universe, and that was manifested in other big changes like the cooling-down of the initial miasma into solid matter, and the emergence of life, and of intelligence, and of language, and of machinery and technology, etc. ....  The process of re-valuing all its values and decomposing and recomposing all its forms is what the universe is all about -- and if you view it from something closer to the universe's perspective, without the limitation imposed by the "linear flow of time" mindset, then it doesn't really seem like development or progress, it looks more like a web of inter-creating process....

So, we were looking for insight into how to maximize the continuity of human consciousness as Singularity approaches and unfolds, so that we can experience Singularity while having the sense of remaining ourselves, and so that the superhuman uber-bots can emerge and roam the galaxy and invent amazing new stuff without killing cute little human babies and puppies in the process -- but what we got was a big dose of "human life and death are not particularly more or less significant than all the other forms and patterns in the Cosmos, and regardless of humanity, the profound wider and deeper intelligence of the universe goes on and keeps on unfolding and doing stuff that will look to human-like minds like creation and destruction."

A:
I see.  So the message the universe gave you is: sure, the Singularity is going to happen, like lots of other Singularities have happened, in this Singular universe … this Singular Universal mind.  But as for the particularities of you mere humans, who really gives a crap?  

B:
Sort of like that -- but without any negative emotional tone.  Humans are here now, within certain subjectively perceived temporal moments and spatial regions.  Other temporal moments and spatial regions don't contain humans.  That's just the way it is.  The universe is rich in various forms and patterns, and humans are part of that, but just a teeny tiny part.  Crap is part of that too! .... The view of forms and patterns as unfolding and developing is just one perspective on the whole web of patterns, which seems interesting from a human view, and less so to other sorts of minds or mindplexes or being-webs or whatever….

There was also a strong sense of the presence of other, individuated non-human minds out there -- faintly amused by us humans' panicked worry about the continuation of various of our pet patterns through our funny little quasi-illusory historical time axis....  These other minds were a little more aware of their own relationship to the Cosmos, and their own role in regards to the overall web of process....

It's not that individuated minds like ours are unnecessary or irrelevant -- we are part of the overall process; patterns emerge in us and emerge from the arrangement of us and other things ... without individuated minds like ours, various other more abstract and broad patterns wouldn't be able to exist ... but the particularities of our minds and beings don't really "deserve" the profound significance that we are habituated to attach to them...

A:
Yes, I get it.  The message is quite clear, at any rate.

As to whether I like it ... I guess that's not a question with a well-defined answer.  It's not the sort of thing you can like or dislike, really.

But, hmmm ... so for you, was it a life-changing experience?  Are you going to give up the search for Friendly AGI, and submit yourself to the cosmic will of the universe as it unfolds?

B:
Heh, no, not really … now that I'm back here in the ordinary dimension, my enthusiasm is undimmed for my quest to create friendly AGI and a positive Singularity for all humans and animals.  But sure, the trip did sorta fill my head with a deeper sense of the limited scope of this quest.

At the moment I look at the quest for a human-positive Singularity more like I look at the quest to build a really nice habitat for my pet bunnies, so they can live in the back yard and enjoy the fresh air and grass without getting eaten by cats or flooded by the rain.  It's important in a sense -- I love the bunnies and want them to be happy and live.  But if it doesn't work and a cat gets in and kills them, well, so it goes ... life goes on...

42 comments:

Boris Kazachenko said...

Ben,

We have "individuated" minds solely because they evolved to guide our "individuated" bodies. And these bodies are not terribly significant, in the grand scheme of things. So, a truly general mind won't be individuated. Rather, it will work like a distributed market economy, with a currency of predictive value.

http://cognitive-focus.blogspot.com/2012/06/motivation-evolution-of-value.html

Benjamin Goertzel said...

Boris -- I assume you know Charles Stross's novel Accelerando, which describes superhuman general intelligence that operates like a very advanced market economy, much as you suggest...

Personally I doubt that any human model or metaphor -- even the vaunted market economy -- is going to look very valid (in hindsight) as a description of radically post human minds. BUT, yeah, I can buy that maybe in some regards many of them will be more economy-like than individual-embodied-mind-like....

-- Ben G

Boris Kazachenko said...

Ben,

>I assume you know Charles Stross's novel Accelerando...

Yeah, SciFi... His version has no definable value. Our currency is an aggregate of our body-centered values, not applicable to GI per se.

> Personally I doubt that any human model or metaphor...

It's not a metaphor, market is any decentralized resource-allocation mechanism with a common denominator for value. And I think the only conceivable generally coherent value is:
http://cognitive-focus.blogspot.com/2012/06/motivation-evolution-of-value.html

Peter A said...

Drugs can induce the sensation of enlightenment without any intellectual content. The brain area that perceives "Eureka!" is artificially stimulated by the chemical, instead of by other brain areas that perceive patterns. No pattern is actually detected, or banalities seem profoundly significant. "The universe is continuing!"

I had a friend who used to smoke pot while reading Hegel. He would tell me that Hegel was giving him colossal insights, but when I asked him what they were, he could never explain a single one.

Drugs can also impair our human values. We can lose our inhibitions, including the inhibition against doing harm to ourselves or others. "Human life and death are not particularly significant."

Drugs can also induce delusions: sensations caused by the drug but ascribed to external stimuli that don't exist or for which there is no evidence. "There was a strong sense of the presence of other, individuated non-human minds out there."

I see no evidence that the states of consciousness induced by artificially tinkering with the brain's chemistry are any more profound, or true, or closer to reality.

Ben, I dearly hope you are not tripping on the day you invent a technology with the power to destroy me and everything I value.

Peter A said...

Robert Oppenheimer expressed enormous regret for what was done with his invention. And he wasn't even stoned on acid during its development. I wish more scientists would read a little history of science. They are like infants playing with shiny guns. And apparently some are drunk or stoned.

I wouldn't let such people drive a car, yet they wield power over the world.

"So it goes" is a convenient rationalization for failing to wield one's power of moral choice. We hear such things from Wall Street criminals and fossil-fuel corporations destroying the world. Human technology is now so powerful that our species' fate is in the hands of the humans controlling it, not some hallucinated "will of the universe." Whether we live or die depends on whether the humans with power behave responsibly.

Responsible behavior begins with not impairing one's judgment with hallucinogenic drugs.

Boris Kazachenko said...

There are bigger things in life than saving our collective skin, Peter.

Peter A said...

Boris, if you think your life is not worth saving, feel free to kill yourself. But don't take your children and the rest of us with you, if you don't mind. Some of us enjoy life and Nature, and think they can be more beautiful than death and rubble.

Terren said...

Ben, this right here is why you're one of my favorite people :-)

To Peter who said: "Responsible behavior begins with not impairing one's judgment with hallucinogenic drugs."

There is truth in what you write about psychedelics, for sure. Acid and its ilk are not oracles of truth, and can easily lead one to a mistaken sense of profundity if one is not disciplined intellectually and emotionally. However, Ben is not someone I would call undisciplined, at least intellectually... I can't vouch for his emotional well being :-)

I for one am glad that there are researchers like Ben who are unabashed about the influence psychedelics have on their worldview. Having some experience myself, I understand the impulse to enter that space seeking deeper insights. It's not that the insights you may have are necessarily correct, but I would argue that the psychedelic perspective taps resources that are normally not available, and one can achieve clarity about issues that are normally clouded.

A nice bit of evidence for what I'm talking about is that the literature is showing how powerful psychedelics can be in curing powerful addictions - which is to say, that they help those addicted achieve clarity about their situation, enough to stop abusing substances. I don't think you cure addiction through delusion.

Boris Kazachenko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter A said...

Terren, powerful addictions can be cured by correcting the underlying nutritional deficiencies and toxicities:
http://www.amazon.com/End-Your-Addiction-Now-Nutritional/dp/0757003133/

This method does not have the serious side effects of hallucinations and loss of human values. I need better evidence of what you are talking about. Any evidence at all would be nice.

Boris, if you want superintelligent robots to explore the universe, godspeed. I'm not standing in your way; I'm just minding my own business.

What I don't like is your lack of respect for my existence. That kind of arrogance is currently destroying far more than my pathetic self.

Darth Imperius said...

As Carl Jung said:

“There is no such thing in nature as an H-Bomb, that is all man’s doing. We are the great danger. The psyche is the great danger.”

The great danger of psychedelics or any other psychonautic technology is that in deconditioning the mind, they may allow your “shadow programs” to take over. At least this was my experience, after an LSD experience long ago brought me face to face with my “inner Hitler.” I’m sure Ben has had bad trips like these, but where others choose to deny them, I have chosen to make them my inspiration and path to endarkenment.

Yes, the universe is continuing, and yes the Singularity is coming. But will the Singularity not bring a Luciferian overmind, and is the universe not evolving toward infinite darkness? Why do even highly intelligent people persist in believing fairy tales which are so obviously false?

Peter A said...

Darth, it is not obvious to me that the Singularity will bring darkness, any more than the converse. I would call such a claim another tragic side effect of LSD.

The outcome of the Singularity will depend on whether the engineers clearly see reality and respect current forms of life. Hallucinogens very obviously do not help with that.

Terren said...

Peter,

There are many methods for curing addiction. Pointing another out is beside the point. I don't deny that psychedelics have side effects, but so do most drugs - that doesn't make them ineffective. If you want references, try:

http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&q=psychedelics+addiction&btnG=&as_sdt=1%2C31&as_sdtp=

For a nice overview of the topic check out:

http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/186/6/457.short

"By 1965 over 2000 papers had been published describing positive results for over 40 000 patients who took psychedelic drugs with few side-effects and a high level of safety (Masters & Houston, 1970). The techniques were applied to the treatment of anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, depression, bereavement reactions and sexual dysfunction, among others (Newland, 1962; Grof, 2001). In the treatment of addiction, repeated controlled experiments demonstrated a consistent recovery and 6-month abstinence from drinking in 50-90% of participants after brief psychedelic therapy (Abramson, 1967; Hoffer, 1970). Another area where therapy was used successfully was in relieving pain and anxiety in terminal cancer (Kast, 1964)."

Clearly there is evidence in the literature of the applicability of psychedelics beyond addiction to other psychiatric disorders.

The idea that psychedelics could have benefits beyond the treatment of various pathologies - that it could, for some people, be a useful tool for self discovery and psychological well being, is documented as well. See http://jhp.sagepub.com/content/22/3/22.short

I offer myself as an example of the above as well. I am a well adjusted individual, happily married with three great kids, with a successful career. And I think my experience with psychedelics was one of the most profoundly positive experiences I've ever had, which have contributed to my overall psychological well being.

Peter A said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter A said...

Whoops, I left out a crucial word.

Terren, thanks for the references. Here are my reactions, in case you're interested.

I am biased against the "treatment" of disorders with drugs that merely suppress symptoms. I prefer to cure disorders by correcting their underlying causes. Such cures are permanent and have far fewer side effects.

Addictions, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, depression, and most sexual dysfunctions all respond rapidly to proper nutrition and detoxification. (Bereavement reactions may, or may be self-limiting.) These holistic cures are not just "another method;" they are superior to drug treatments, whose gains are usually temporary. Six months of abstinence from drinking is not impressive.

So I am turning your argument back on you: "applicability" of a treatment does not make it the best treatment. Electroshock for depression works temporarily, with serious risks.

We are arguing about whether hallucinogens have benefits that outweigh the risks. On that, your first post was contradictory. You admitted that they induce mistaken insights and judgments, then said they give clarity. How is a user to tell the first from the second?

You offer yourself as an example who escaped the risks, but (like my pot-smoking friend) didn't explain the great insight that you experienced. Was it really "profoundly positive" or did you just think it was?

In Ben's case, he came out with less concern about the lives of us bunnies. I'd call that a serious risk in someone developing a lethal new technology.

Terren said...

> I am biased against the "treatment" of disorders with drugs that merely suppress symptoms. I prefer to cure disorders by correcting their underlying causes. Such cures are permanent and have far fewer side effects.

OK, but without familiarizing yourself with the research how can you be so sure that psychedelic treatment doesn't do just that?

> These holistic cures are not just "another method;" they are superior to drug treatments, whose gains are usually temporary.

Again, this is neither here nor there with respect to the relative merits of psychedelic therapy.

> Six months of abstinence from drinking is not impressive.

Here is a study that shows a consistent abstinence rate among former heroin users over a two-year period:

http://www.journalofsubstanceabusetreatment.com/article/S0740-5472(02)00275-1/abstract

> So I am turning your argument back on you: "applicability" of a treatment does not make it the best treatment. Electroshock for depression works temporarily, with serious risks.

I'm not arguing that psychedelics are the optimum treatment (although they might be in some scenarios). What I am trying to show is that there is evidence for the idea that psychedelics work because they bring new clarity to the subjects about the nature of their mental illness (be it addiction or whatever), as well as a powerful mechanism for "rewiring" the brain to supplant the pathological behavior patterns.

> We are arguing about whether hallucinogens have benefits that outweigh the risks. On that, your first post was contradictory. You admitted that they induce mistaken insights and judgments, then said they give clarity. How is a user to tell the first from the second?

All I said is that there is no guarantee that insights garnered in the psychedelic state are necessarily truthful. They aren't necessarily wrong, either. Once back in the realm of the sober, those who are intellectually disciplined can critically examine their insights to see if they are well grounded.

Anyway, if I were a heroin addict with no control over my addiction, the benefits of a psychedelic therapy would vastly outweigh the risks, in my estimation.

> You offer yourself as an example who escaped the risks,

btw there are studies that demonstrate the relative safety of psychedelics in the therapeutic setting... see e.g.

http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/bul/79/6/341/

> but (like my pot-smoking friend) didn't explain the great insight that you experienced. Was it really "profoundly positive" or did you just think it was?

Fair enough. I've experienced a number of insights, but chief among them was the realization that reality is constructed in the mind... up to that point I was a diehard objectivist. I don't mean to start any philosophical debates here. It wouldn't surprise me if you disagreed, you strike me as an objectivist yourself... if so, let's let that sleeping dog lie.

> In Ben's case, he came out with less concern about the lives of us bunnies. I'd call that a serious risk in someone developing a lethal new technology.

I understand your concern. But I don't think Ben is wrong about this. I think the chief point of his little story is that, one way or the other, for better or for worse, change is coming, and on a scale that mocks our intentions. Whether the singularity cares about us or not, humanity as we know it today is going to be history. In the best case, it is supplanted by something much, much better, and in the face of that possibility, our desire to preserve our current state could possibly come to be seen as ridiculously short sighted.

Peter A said...

Ran into a character limit, so;

Part 1 of 2

Terren, first of all, thanks for the interesting discussion.

> OK, but without familiarizing yourself with the research how can you be so sure that psychedelic treatment doesn't do just that?

Basic knowledge of physiology. If you have panic attacks caused by a magnesium deficiency, LSD will not magically manufacture the magnesium you need. If the cause is magnesium deficiency, which it usually is, 200 mg of mag glycinate will stop a panic attack within an hour.
http://www.healthy.net/scr/column.aspx?id=74

> Again, this is neither here nor there with respect to the relative merits of psychedelic therapy.

"Relative merits" means risks versus benefits. So I disagree.

> Here is a study that shows a consistent abstinence rate among former heroin users over a two-year period.

Two years is better. Permanent cure including healing all the other health problems of heroin users is much better.

> What I am trying to show is that there is evidence for the idea that psychedelics work because they bring new clarity to the subjects about the nature of their mental illness

I'd rather have the clarity that I need magnesium.

> as well as a powerful mechanism for "rewiring" the brain to supplant the pathological behavior patterns.

I hear you, and say so what? You can rewire your brain with magnesium, omega 3 fats, and other nutrients and detoxification, without the side effects of hallucinations and loss of human values.

> Once back in the realm of the sober, those who are intellectually disciplined can critically examine their insights to see if they are well grounded.

You said that Ben is intellectually disciplined, yet he wrote about the non-human minds that he "strongly sensed." Where is the evidence for such minds? Where is the evidence that Ben has critically examined those sensations?

> Anyway, if I were a heroin addict with no control over my addiction, the benefits of a psychedelic therapy would vastly outweigh the risks, in my estimation.

If I were a heroin addict, I would rather take magnesium and other nutrients than further meddle with my brain chemistry in ways not fully understood.

> btw there are studies that demonstrate the relative safety of psychedelics in the therapeutic setting

Relative to what? Did their control group have good nutrition?

(cont.)

Peter A said...

Part 2 of 2

> chief among [my insights] was the realization that reality is constructed in the mind... up to that point I was a diehard objectivist. I don't mean to start any philosophical debates here. It wouldn't surprise me if you disagreed, you strike me as an objectivist yourself... if so, let's let that sleeping dog lie.

Well, one yip from the dog. I studied science and the philosophy of science, and consider reality to be that on which we have intersubjective agreement. When you gather a large group of non-stoned people, including me, who "strongly sense" other non-human minds, I'll believe they might be scientifically verifiable reality.

> I understand your concern. But I don't think Ben is wrong about this. I think the chief point of his little story is that, one way or the other, for better or for worse, change is coming, and on a scale that mocks our intentions. Whether the singularity cares about us or not, humanity as we know it today is going to be history. In the best case, it is supplanted by something much, much better, and in the face of that possibility, our desire to preserve our current state could possibly come to be seen as ridiculously short sighted.

Of course big change is coming. Of course big change has always been occurring. These are banalities, not profound insights, to the non-stoned.

If the superintelligent software-based beings want to explore space, or play in the net, godspeed. But I would prefer that they didn't wipe out us carbon-based beings (human and otherwise) on a whim because they lack human values, such as compassion for the weak. Engineers like Ben could do lots of things to reduce that risk, if they have the will and the human values themselves.

For example, they could create the first superbeings in quarantine before unleashing them on the world. Ben has said he will not do that, and now he says he doesn't care much if the supers kill us all. I call that irresponsible.

Terren said...

Peter,

Look, I'm with you on nutrition, I think it's far and away the most underrated aspect of health care in both the physiological and psychological domains. But like anything, it has its limits. You keep steering this thing back to nutrition which just seems like an attempt to change the subject... it's baffling. I'm not trying to compare psychedelics to anything. I'm arguing something specific about them, something that has little relevance to the efficacy of other healing modalities. I'm not arguing that people should use psychedelics. I'm simply saying they may have some benefits, and that your blanket dismissal of that particular tool, and the people who use them as "stoners" reeks of lazy thinking. I'm assuming you have no experience with psychedelics yourself, which is another reason your dismissal of them is questionable.

Your attack on Ben as someone of questionable moral character also strikes me as a facile conclusion. I don't know Ben personally, but I have exposed myself to a lot of his writings and have had a few interactions with him privately and on mailing lists. FWIW he comes across to me as someone who cares deeply about the big questions of humanity. You may take your impression of him from one little snippet that happens to hit a hot button of yours, but to speak as if you know something as deep as someone's character based on such a shallow analysis... I don't know. Try harder. Your analysis isn't very compelling.

Peter A said...

Okay, it's late, but I feel kinda strongly about this, and I don't often get to argue with such a tenacious opponent.

> I'm simply saying [psychedelics] may have some benefits, and that your blanket dismissal of that particular tool, and the people who use them as "stoners" reeks of lazy thinking.

I'm saying that citing benefits in isolation from the concomitant risks, and in isolation from the alternative tools, is incomplete thinking. Lots of things have benefits that are outweighed by their risks. Is that still baffling?

> I'm assuming you have no experience with psychedelics yourself,

Correct, unless you count a few tokes of pot.

> which is another reason your dismissal of them is questionable.

I have no experience with gunning down innocents in a movie theater, but I see the consequences of that, and thus don't recommend it.

> Your attack on Ben as someone of questionable moral character also strikes me as a facile conclusion.

I explained my reasons. Ben has children. If he said he didn't care much if his son gunned down innocents, would my complaint about his parenting be facile?

> I have exposed myself to a lot of his writings

Me too.

> and have had a few interactions with him privately and on mailing lists.

On this blog, me too.

> FWIW he comes across to me as someone who cares deeply about the big questions of humanity.

Well, that was before his recent trip to another dimension. He himself said it changed his attitude toward us bunnies.

> You may take your impression of him from one little snippet

I take my impression from his and my previous dialog about quarantining AGIs, and from his latest long post full of banal insights, hallucinations, and decreased concern about the consequences of his actions.

> that happens to hit a hot button of yours,

Yes, extinction of all carbon-based life is a hot-button with me.

> but to speak as if you know something as deep as someone's character

I don't claim to know anything except what he has written. If what he has written is false, then I have a false impression.

> Your analysis isn't very compelling.

I hope other readers will judge for themselves.

Terren said...

I'm not an expert in therapy of any kind, so I agree with you that my thinking is incomplete in that regard. I plead ignorance to all the different ways I could compare psychedelic therapy to other things. If I were arguing that people who struggle with addiction and other mental health issues *should* avail themselves of psychedelic therapy, then that would be a charge I would care about.

But at the risk of repeating myself, I am only defending the proposition that psychedelics have something positive to offer that may outweigh the risks. You have clearly identified yourself as someone with a prejudice against it, so I don't see the point in going any further with you on that point.

I once read something I thought was pretty wise, which is to be as generous as possible with your opponent when arguing about something. Myself, I wish I could do that better than I do now, but the point I'm trying to make is that you are taking the least charitable interpretation of Ben's story, and it undermines the points you are trying to make. It's a little story, a fiction. A cautionary tale. But from that, you leap to the conclusion that "he doesn't care much if the supers kill us all. I call that irresponsible." Comes across as someone looking to score points, not interested in real dialogue.

Peter A said...

I read that just before the first atomic bomb explosion at Trinity, some scientists in the Manhattan Project seriously believed that the bomb might ignite Earth's atmosphere and destroy all life. But they pushed the button anyway.

That kind of arrogance concerns me, and I'd be even more concerned if the scientists were dropping acid and hallucinating "other minds" amused at our petty worry about life on Earth. That's my cautionary tale.

Terren said...

There was also the possibility that the Large Hadron Collider would form a black hole that would consume us all. We are now at the point where the technology we are capable of building carries with it an existential risk. This is true also of nanotechnology and bioengineering (of virus and synthetic lifeforms).

What you are saying is that we have a responsibility to make sure that the tech we build will not destroy us. And I agree with that, but there are problems that make it not so simple.

One is obviously that there are no guarantees, and that the benefits to the technology are always perceived to outweigh the risks which is why the Manhattan Project and the LHC continued.

The second is that if some group decided out of a sense of responsibility to not pursue some technological avenue out of a fear of the consequences, you can bet that there's another group that will build it anyway. Not only that, but the group that is not as careful may well build it first.

The last point relates strictly to the Singularity, and this relates much more directly to what Ben wrote than the other two points, which I'm sure were not news to you. That is, a Singularity would represent, in a context that transcends our particular species, the next stage of evolution on this planet. As such, if this were to occur then humanity as we know it would be thrown out of equilibrium. Whatever happened from that point on, whether biological humans would persist or perish, the point is that humanity would be different in some unknowable way, from our current limited perspective.

Ben's story is just an acknowledgment of that inevitability. And to take the rest of his story at face value, he is not throwing his hands up and saying, fuck it, who cares. "... my enthusiasm is undimmed for my quest to create friendly AGI and a positive Singularity for all humans and animals."

Peter A said...

Terren, maybe you and I should get a room. :)

You are putting lots of words in my mouth. I have read the Bill Joy essay and many rebuttals. I'm not asking for technology relinquishment.

Yes obviously there are no guarantees of safety. Yes obviously human culture will change bigtime after the Singularity. (We are hardly in "equilibrium" now.) These are very obvious points that you don't need to repeat for me.

I want Ben and others like him to DO THEIR BEST to reduce the risk that AGIs will kill us all, not just change our culture. And I've named two ways in which Ben could do his best, which, according to him, he is NOT doing.

1) Plan to raise AGIs in quarantine.

2) Avoid impairing his mind with hallucinogens.

You accused me of trying for debating points instead of dialog, so let's finish our dialog on the second issue. You said LSD has benefits that "may" outweigh its risks, but so far I have seen none.

The alleged benefits for treating mental illness are irrelevant to Ben (I hope) so let's not argue that again. The only benefit you named for yourself was your insight that "reality is constructed in the mind."

If what you mean by that is that our perception of things is easily altered by our mind (subject to brain chemistry), then I agree. I've never dropped acid, but I had heavy metal poisoning that affected my cognition and emotions, and I realized that my "reality" is easily affected by my brain chemistry. That's a true and useful insight.

But I concluded from that insight that I should not mess around with my brain chemistry unnecessarily.

In Ben's case, the results of his acid trip, according to his story, was:

a) banal insights (the universe is continuing to change)

b) false insights (non-human minds are watching us with amusement)

c) troubling drop in his sense of urgency to protect carbon-based life (if they die, so it goes)

I see no benefits there, only risks, if Ben is successful in developing the most powerful technology ever. The clarity Ben got from LSD was banal, false, and troubling, and I wish he would stop messing with his brain chemistry.

Anonymous said...

If you're trying to make yourself look like a crackpot, this is the type of post you should be writing. A little newage-cosmic-religious-mysticism will do wonders for your credibility.

Plus of course hinting at your parallel career as an acid junkie.

Then you complain that you dont't get properly funded..

Anonymous said...

Recently, when contemplating cubic splines, I came to the sudden realization that all of my n - 1 lives have been an infinite-order hallucination, which is to say, a hallucination derived from an infinite set of hallucinations. I became rather disturbed but then remembered that the hallucination density function integrates to one on the infinite integral: I am Goddess and Goddess is Real.

People worry about death because they mistakenly believe such hallucinations are permanent - they improperly interpret the "foolish fairytales."

The Mayan long calender ends on December 21, 2012. One would think that it immediately starts over again but this is not true; the long calender doesn't begin again until March 21, 2013. Is this, then, the origin of that "foolish fairytale" surrounding Christmas and Easter?

This is the beginning of the Fifth Wheel which means the Mayans have been tracking our solar systems orbit about the core of our galaxy for 104,000 years (each wheel being 26,000 years). One would think that one could begin to track the galactic orbit with any randomly chosen start/stop point but this is also fallacy. At each termination of the Mayan long calender the galactic tendancies shift between masculine dominance and feminine dominance. The current shift is from the masculine to the feminine.

In the yogic tradition, the human mind shifts from Ida dominance to Pingala dominance with a period of roughly 95 minutes. Ida represents the feminine, lunar, mental, introspective aspect of our nature, while Pingala the masculine, solar, physical, extrospective aspect. Can one correlate this shift on the human scale to the same shift on the galactic scale chronicled by the Mayan long calender - Christmas and Easter? It certainly seems something to ponder . . .

I've dropped a great deal of acid in my day. I was once arrested on the top of Horton Plaza, downtown San Diego, while on acid because I thought I had discovered a way to transced reality and I took off all of my clothes (a requirement of transcendance don't you know). I wouldn't change anything because it led to where I now am; however, I plan to strongly encourage my children to pursue more traditional methods of illusion dissolution, methods like yoga and meditation. Yoga and meditation are all about harmonizing Ida and Pingala - the result being the integration of the hallucination density function . . . but each to his own.

bfrs said...

Ben seems to be channeling Galileo's 'Dialogue' to present some unpalatable but true ideas. I agree that the period from the first intelligent machines to the rise of wise machines is a highly unpredictable one, despite the best efforts of the good guys of whom Ben is definitely one. It is not guaranteed that humanity will survive that period. Our fate could be either that of the Homo-Erectus and other ape-man species (totally wiped out), Neanderthals/Trolls (integrated into ours) or like some native Americans confined to reservations or second class citizenship.

This raises the question, is the risk worth it? The most honest answer from my side is that I don't know. As far as I'm concerned, my AGI research is just another way of expressing the (evolutionarily) inbuilt desire to do something worthwhile, and what could be more worthwhile than automating intelligence itself? It definitely has the potential to make human lives better, but does the risk of being wiped out outweigh all the potential benefits? Its impossible to say beforehand. But yes, we will do our best to increase the odds in our favor.

bfrs said...

@Peter A: Your critique of Ben's post is very interesting. What is your G+ id?

Anonymous said...

For @Peter A and Terren:

These are some good links related to the Psychoactive Substance Therapy argument. Especially check out the work of Alexander and Ann Shulgin, pioneers in the field. Dr. Shulgin had a DEA schedule one license for years . . .

http://www.maps.org/research/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Shulgin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PiHKAL

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TiHKAL

http://www.erowid.org/library/books_online/pihkal/pihkal.shtml

And to Peter A. concerning your remark: " . . . Well, one yip from the dog. I studied science and the philosophy of science, and consider reality to be that on which we have intersubjective agreement. When you gather a large group of non-stoned people, including me, who "strongly sense" other non-human minds, I'll believe they might be scientifically verifiable reality . . ."

Perhaps you should peruse the Tantric literature of India and Tibet. Ah, the hell with that . . . who do you think the classic Greek authors were referring to when they wrote of the gods and goddesses? But you probably think they were all stoned . . . the oracle of Delphi and all that . . .

Peter A said...

To bfrs:

Thanks, I don't use Google+. I have a Facebook account that I rarely use: peter.arneson.9

To the preceding Anonymous:

Aristotle wrote that heavier objects fall faster because they have a greater affinity for the Earth. This was considered truth for nearly 2,000 years until Galileo dropped (according to his biographer) two balls of different weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and heard them hit the street simultaneously.

Lots of people make lots of claims. The discerning mind does not blindly believe them.

Wes Hansen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wes Hansen said...

What Aristotle did was construct a theory based on the knowledge of his day; it’s all anyone can do. The important thing, for any human, is to constrain bias as much as possible; bias, of any kind, restricts creativity. Upward and outward requires maximum creativity, wouldn’t you say?

This is at the heart of the Complex Systems approach facilitated by enhanced communication systems. Even the military is adopting a decentralized approach to command (http://www.businesswithoutborders.com/industries/others-industries/leaders-stuck-on-stupid/). Why? It allows for more creative problem resolution, it allows the military, a complex system, to adapt to system noise in real time, to be creative. Decentralized command, open source code, creative commons, they all optimize information utilization, which is to say, creativity. And this ties in, in a sense, to research in Psychedelic Therapies.

If one views the mind as a control system, Psychedelic Therapy research is analogous to the study of controlled noise. Everyone knows introducing controlled noise into a control system can be beneficial. Shamanistic cultures have known this for millennia; it’s at the heart of ritual, especially ritual involving the ingestion of psychoactive plants. In Complex Systems terminology, said rituals facilitate basin jumping and if the basin one is stuck in is unhealthy . . .

Of course, to temper this, yoga and meditation facilitate basin evolution, a more subtle but often more profound approach.

Peter A said...

Wes, I think I didn't make myself clear with my Aristotle example. Aristotle said heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones. They don't. Anyone can observe that, in Aristotle's day or any day. Everyone was wrong (and science was held back) for millennia because everyone believed Aristotle instead of observing evidence.

Anonymous said I should believe in Ben's "non-human minds" because Indian tantrics and classical Greeks wrote about them.

You said I should believe that hallucinogens can be beneficial because "everyone knows" it and "shamanistic cultures have known it for millennia."

I say show me evidence that Ben's acid trip was beneficial to him or the potential victims of his AGI work. Can you see the difference between faith in authority (Aristotle, shamans) and evidence?

Anonymous said...

an popular article discussing research into the effects of lsd on creativity:

http://www.themorningnews.org/article/the-heretic

Benjamin Goertzel said...

This blog post has elicited a long and interesting discussion, which I don't have time to fully participate in at the moment.

About psychedelics in general, I tend to agree with Terren's comments. I think they have great positive potential, as well as significant negative potential. LIke many other tools, their value depends a lot on how they're used.

Regarding the comment about me

***
> FWIW he comes across to me as someone who cares deeply about the big questions of humanity.

Well, that was before his recent trip to another dimension. He himself said it changed his attitude toward us bunnies.
***

please note

1)
I took a lot more "trips to other dimensions" in my college years than recently ;)

2)
This little parable I posted in this blog post, does not represent any change of attitude on my part. It' just something I didn't feel was apropos to post until recently.

I felt it was OK to post this perspective now, because I recently posted a long article on practical steps toward ethical AGI

http://jetpress.org/v22/goertzel-pitt.htm

The current blog post should be read in the context of that article. I see no contradiction between those two perspectives.

As for the idea that if human engineers are sufficiently morally responsible, then ongoing preservation of human life is basically guaranteed -- heh....

Peter A said...

"As for the idea that if human engineers are sufficiently morally responsible, then ongoing preservation of human life is basically guaranteed -- heh...."

Whose idea is that? I'm again shocked and disappointed that you distort my words into this straw-man argument.

Seatbelts cannot guarantee survival in a car crash. Should we not wear them then?

Benjamin Goertzel said...

Peter,

You wrote

"Whether we live or die depends on whether the humans with power behave responsibly."

From this I inferred that you thought there was a strong dependency of "whether humanity survives" on "whether those building and teaching AI behave responsibly, according to your standard" If you merely meant to imply some sort of weak statistical dependency, then I misinterpreted you.

... ben

Benjamin Goertzel said...

Peter,

Regarding

"
I wish more scientists would read a little history of science.
"

I have read a lot of it, and so for that matter have most scientists I know.

Regarding

"
Responsible behavior begins with not impairing one's judgment with hallucinogenic drugs.
"

I wish you would read a little more about the history of such substances … and the history of the human race!!!

How many of the massively destructive episodes in human history have occurred because of scientists, engineers, world leaders or anyone else being influenced by psychedelic drugs? None, to my knowledge…

Actually, as is well-documented, such chemicals tend to foster a feeling of connectedness with other beings, and open-ness to other perspectives, and empathy.

I would venture that if more of our world leaders had experienced such substances, in appropriate settings, we would have had far less destruction and nastiness in human history.

At this point in my life, I don't feel the need to take psychedelics to open my mind and feel open-ness and empathy. My mind is pretty far open already ;) ….

But various chemical explorations in earlier phases of my life were very valuable to my growth as a human being.

Steve Jobs, co-founder and leader of what is currently the most valuable company on Earth, made similar comments as reported in his recent biography:

http://www.newser.com/story/148089/steve-jobs-lsd-changed-my-life.html

"
The mega-mind behind Apple took LSD some 15 times, and it was a "life-changing experience," Jobs revealed on a 1988 security clearance application he filled out for the Department of Defense. "It was a positive life changing experience for me, and I am glad I went through that experience,"
"

-- Ben Goertzel

Peter A said...

Part 1 of 2

Thank you, Ben, for your replies.

Peter, You wrote

"Whether we live or die depends on whether the humans with power behave responsibly."

From this I inferred that you thought there was a strong dependency of "whether humanity survives" on "whether those building and teaching AI behave responsibly, according to your standard" If you merely meant to imply some sort of weak statistical dependency, then I misinterpreted you.


It is a logical fallacy to assume that a strong correlation between irresponsibility and death implies a strong correlation between responsibility and survival. Again, consider the seatbelt example. Not wearing them virtually guarantees injury in a crash. Wearing them cannot guarantee safety, but is better than nothing.

Likewise, being extremely careful with extremely dangerous new technologies cannot guarantee human survival. But being careless because "human life and death are not particularly significant" virtually guarantees extinction.

But this disagreement with you is trivial compared to our main one: whether taking LSD is careless and irresponsible behavior for someone with his finger on the Button.


How many of the massively destructive episodes in human history have occurred because of scientists, engineers, world leaders or anyone else being influenced by psychedelic drugs? None, to my knowledge…

Here again is a logical fallacy. I can't draw a Venn diagram here, but a set of destructive people who were not stoned does not prove that drugs never trigger destructiveness. LSD did not exist during most of our history, so that history is irrelevant to the drug's track record.

But actually, I dispute your empirical claim as well as your logic. To my knowledge, Hitler was heavily influenced by drugs, as was the Manson family and many other small-scale murderers. Some shamanistic cultures ingest mind-and-judgment-altering plants before going into battle. Are scientists and engineers immune from the same effects?

Peter A said...

Part 2 of 2

Actually, as is well-documented, such chemicals tend to foster a feeling of connectedness with other beings, and open-ness to other perspectives, and empathy.

Here at last are claims of specific benefits, instead of the usual nonspecific claims. And you cite the single example of Steve Jobs, who was not known for great empathy.

I can cite the single counterexample of "Darth Imperius" who commented above. But let's talk about you.

I originally reacted to your posted dialogue. You called it fictional, but it seemed a detailed description of someone's acid trip, presumably yours. It does not describe increased empathy. It describes decreased empathy and concern for human lives.

I agree that drugs can foster new ideas and perspectives. This is a benefit, but at what cost?

As a creative writer and student of psychology, I know that creativity requires two steps:

1) Generate new ideas.
2) Judge those ideas against some standard (reality or morality).

Many times I have woken from a dream with new ideas, but when I shake off sleep I realize they are crap. The second step of creativity is just as crucial as the first.

Drugs are not necessary for the first step, and they impair the second. You may feel more connected with other beings, but you are less connected with intersubjective reality and morality. Some stoned people get the new idea that they can fly, and since their judgment is impaired, they jump off a roof.

Obviously you haven't done that, and not all people do. Human behavior has complex causation. Maybe you were prudent enough to take your acid under restraint or supervision, although that doesn't help with flashbacks and residues stored (like other toxins) in your tissues.

But the fact remains that your judgment of reality and morality was impaired, according to your description of the drug trip. That is a risk to humanity, if you get access to the Button, and responsible engineers minimize risk to humanity. I remain concerned because you can't see that, or your logical fallacies.

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