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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Eternal Childhood of the Post-Singularity Mind

It has occurred to me many times, as I played with my various offspring (4 kids and one grandchild so far, one more little daughter due February!), that in many respects our post-Singularity selves are going to closely resemble children today.

When children play, they’re not just randomly experimenting and exploring and enjoying themselves -- they are doing that, but they’re also whimsically rehearsing and practicing stuff that they (consciously and unconsciously) know they’re potentially going to be doing “for real” once they grow up.   They’re practicing, and they’re role-playing roles that they at least half-know they could really get called on to play in the future.   But they’re doing this in a way that’s often more fun than the real thing -- because it doesn’t come with all the constraints and risks that the real thing does.   

So when a kid plays “house”, or plays “fighting dragons” -- on the one hand they know one day they may be managing a real house or fighting some actual dangerous thing.   On the other hand, they also know in the back of their minds how tedious or scary these real activities might be -- and that their make-believe versions are joyous mockeries of the real thing.

Implicit in childhood play is a half-knowledge of what one is going to become -- after one gets radically transformed beyond what one is -- and a desire to creatively and lightheartedly explore these future potentials .

At the same time, as a child, one also knows that one is being cared for by other beings who understand the world much better than one does in important respects -- and have superior power -- and who are setting the context for one’s play activities.

Now put yourself in the position of a post-Singularity human, who is in a world populated by AGIs with far greater general intelligence and capability, most of whom are basically benevolent toward you.   

In such a situation there are several sorts of opportunities open to you: you can remain a legacy human, you can rapidly upgrade yourself to massively superhuman effective-godhood, or you can gradually upgrade yourself, retaining a sense of self and continuity as you grow and transcend.

Let’s consider the latter option: So, suppose you are in the process of gradually upgrading  your own intelligence and capability.   

Suppose you have chosen to upgrade your intelligence relatively slowly -- say, multiplying it by a factor of 1.5 or 2 each year -- so as to get the full and rich experience of growing and self-transcending (as opposed to the process of increasing one’s intelligence by a factor of 1000 in one second, which in essence would be a kind of death in which the self is suddenly replaced by a radically different entity with a subtle connection to the previous version).

Then in key respects, your experience will be like that of a human child.   

You’ll be in a world mostly guided by minds far beyond your own -- and bearing some resemblance to what you expect to eventually evolve into.   

And you’ll be highly tempted to play at the activities that you know you’ll be able to partake in more fully once you’ve upgraded a bit more.   While at the same time enjoying the activities you can currently partake in with full success.

By playing at the activities your future self will master, you’ll integrate aspects of these activities into your self, thus smoothing the transition between your current self and your future more-intelligent self.

Simple example: If you know that a year later you’ll be able to sculpt complex virtual reality worlds rapidly and near-instantly at will, keeping all the different aspects of the world in your mind at once -- then as this ability gradually emerges for you, you’ll likely feel drawn to experiment with world-building even though you’re not that good at it yet. 

Two years of intelligence-evolution away from being able to cognitively interface directly with sensors at the quark level, and grok some of the thoughts of the intra-particulate intelligences resident there?   Won’t you be curious what this is like -- and eager to dip now and then into the now-mostly-incomprehensible sensor output -- and creatively improvise on what snippets of meaning one has been able to extract?

Once humanity finally grows up and moves from the economy of scarcity into the economy of abundance, and we get root access to our own brains and minds and the ability to actively sculpt our own futures -- then we will enter a new era of childhood, one that neither terminates in the relative stasis of an adulthood nor gets repetitive as it would if one remained a typical human eight year old kid forever.   

In this sort of childhood, the moment one seriously approaches the sort of maturity one can understand, one sees that there is a yet higher form of maturity, with respect to which one is just a little child again.

But wait a minute -- isn’t this our situation anyway?   It is, of course.   At age 53, I haven’t stopped growing and advancing and changing, and in some ways I’ve personally evolved more in the last 5 years than I did in the 20 years before that.    Even in our current human situation, without AGIs or cyborgs, the more we mature our understanding and consciousness, the more clearly we see what the next levels of consciousness are, out there on the horizon.

But still there are senses in which human development does slow down once adulthood sets in.   While the mind can keep advancing, the brain mostly stops developing in the early teens.   The last really exciting physical change we experience is puberty -- the changes that occur as one meets old age are generally significantly less inspiring.   

Post-Singularity, our bodies as well as our  minds will keep gaining new capabilities, and the computing infrastructure supporting our thinking and feeling activity will keep getting richer and more powerful -- and these improvements will unfold in sync with our advances in cognition and consciousness, just as happens in human childhood.

Given the myriad difficulties of human life on Earth right now, and the likelihood of a difficult transition from here to Singularity, it can sometimes be hard to believe we could be so close to such radical positive changes.   But this is the nature of nonlinear processes and exponential advance.   

As a kid I loved Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End.   But in fact, I think the Singularity will bring an acceleration and enhancement of the human childhood experience, rather than its termination.

Here’s to the eternal childhood of the post-Singularity Mind!


Unknown said...

Great read, interesting view. Thanks, truly enjoyed it.

Unknown said...


Paracelsus C said...

I agree on the fact x1000 intelligence in a second would produce a vastly different entity than myself. Yet I think there is more to unpick here. For example if we have some exo-cortex which provides xN intelligence, what is the impact on one's mind of transcending for a short while and then descending. I can imagine that either one would be left in shock at the descending processes as transcendence is ripped from us, yet if we eased in and out attentuating the signals from and to the exo-cortex, allowing the brain to adjust, I can conceive we'd experience an odd sensation of looking back and not grasping anything I did during my hour of transcendence. Akin in kind but not in magnitude to the reading of code written a month or year ago. Furthermore there exists a whole host of possibilities on how the enabling of a exo-cortex (or any other transcendence method) could effect the user, I imagine it likely that even if you just flipped the big knife switch in the lab (with appropriate mad laughter) we would not jump directly to the peak of the exo-cortex's capability but we would have a period of time extended or (maybe both) compact in which the brain rewires to efficiently utilise the new resource. Which brings me back to the question once my brain has rewires to use the exo-cortex and it becomes lost to me, how much further has my identity strayed? Have I like a image file that has been blown up and shrank lost my quality? It remains a possibility to me that an exo-cortex is a one way trip and an a potentially addictive one at that.
Interesting stuff none the less but there are some deeper philosophical and practical

Mentifex said...

The post-title is perhaps a play on "A Beautiful Mind" by Silvia Nasar, or on a movie called "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

Treebeard said...

This sounds so much like a religious person anticipating life in paradise after Judgment Day -- everything will be provided by God, people will become like children, lions will lie down with lambs, there will be eternal peace, 72 virgins, gardens and fine foods, etc. I see no reason to believe that this post-"Singularity" world that you anticipate is any more likely.

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Anonymous said...

Really interesting read, never looked at it that way. I hope the future of AGI really leads to us taking the cosmic version of childhood, as opposed to us all making paperclips.

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