Roboto Ergo Sum: Artificial Intelligence, Simulated Life & the Myth of Humanity

Posted: December 14, 2014 in Drunk Robot, Futurism
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In celebration of December being National Paranoia of Artificial Intelligence Month, Stephen Hawking came out as a pessimist against mankind’s future with Artificial Intelligence. I, something of a drunken robot constructed of (mostly organic) cranks, gears, levers & the like, decided to engage in a series of discussions with fellow paranoids about the opportunities and threats of smart machines. As could be expected, my comrades-in-neurosis tended to lean in the same direction as Hawking, trending on skepticism for a benevolent rise of the machines. I.E., the communal belief we’re pretty-much fucked.

The following is one such conversation.

PORTLAND, Ore

East Stumptown is a series of dewy hills meandering with dive bars, vegan delicatessens, gentlemen’s clubs (featuring no gentlemen, but rather libertine intellectuals, bacchanal lumberjacks and constipated poets peeling dollar bills to seed a stage already stickied with spilt Olympia where high-heeled hipster strippers barter their exposed tattooed flesh and pierced nethers in exchange for enough cash and/or cocaine to pay for cocaine and/or college tuition), yeasty-stank breweries, holistic healers, revolution-infused cafes and archaic bookstores. Somewhere amidst the commotion existed a Creole restaurant where AEEO93-1yA met for their semi-annual brouhaha extravaganza (and jambalaya). For the sake of expedience, I will confess AEEO93-1yA could be decoded with the right encryption key as ‘North Oregon Cryptography Society’. I’d share the mission statement of our organization, but NO, because reasons (secret reasons). NOCS (viz. AEEO93-1yA) was founded by the heretical filmmaker Yorick. I, your narrator Vic Neverman, was the first member to join his ranks some years later. Our organization was then infiltrated by the likes of Dan the Destroyer, who was already a reputed member of some Washingtonian federal agency, which gave our cryptography club instantaneous clout due to his undercover presence. These meetings consisted of, for the most part, the three of us discussing cryptic codes and secret southpaw handshakes with beer and hand-sanitizer at the ready.

Cryptography Enthusiasts of Oregon: Vic Neverman, Yorick and Dan the Destroyer the undercover Federal Agent

Cryptography Enthusiasts of Oregon: Vic Neverman, Yorick and Dan the Destroyer the undercover Federal Agent

The prior meeting of NOCS involved a thorough discussion of Yorick’s crypto-currency dealings and his desire to find a safe haven for his servers in Sweden where he’d be able to host his bastardized, yet perfected, Tetris Masters game without being sued out of his suede shoes by the fuckers who own the commercial rights. Of course, all this is neither here nor there unless you are a patent lawyer or Yorick’s ex-Norwegian girlfriend (‘ex’ referring to the former relationship, she is still from Norway) whose distaste for Swedes is ever evident or, of course, if you are a Stockholm server farm looking for foreign investors (in which case, call me).

After reviewing the prior meeting minutes over jambalaya, we attacked the matter at hand: the rising threat of Artificial Intelligence. Yorick disassembled the thought with his adrift eyeballs, processing information with the callous patience of a Belgian landmine nestled under a Cambodian lily-pad. In response to the question of A.I.’s looming threat, Yorick eventually responded, “I am not sure there is any use in worrying about the emergence of Artificial Intelligence when, mathematically speaking, there is a higher likelihood we are already under its influence.”

What? Already? My mind raced across a list of contemporary suspects that might be programmed with artificial intelligence: DARPA weather satellites, Amazon Drones in Yemen, Facebook, NSA mainframes, Starbucks baristas, automated-voice elevators, navigational devices, my ‘smart’ television… Yorick negated all my delusions. I was missing the point. He was artificial intelligence. I was artificial intelligence. This whole fucking barroom was the byproduct of artificial intelligence.

Accordingly, seeing that our senses sometimes deceive us, I was willing to suppose that there existed nothing really such as they presented to us…

– Rene Descartes

Dan the Destoryer was leaning in very closely so his faux beard’s microphone could capture the dialogue and broadcast it to whichever spy satellite hovering in the atmosphere was controlled by his employers. His mechanized contact lenses had likely already taken surveillance pictures of every detail presented, capturing everything from the Creole menu to Yorick’s cigarette rolling technique to the dimensions of our waitress’s ass to the frequency of my facial tics to the consistency of Andouille sausage in the jambalaya. Dan the Destroyer had as much static energy as a pulsating zit on the face of a hand-standing teenager; he could barely sit still as if his Fort Meade overlords were zapping messages to a receptor in his anus to signal to him the new directive to exterminate all parties present with a fairly excessive prejudice. I mean, either that or dude was ignoring hemorrhoids. Our discussion developed further…

Simulated realities are increasing in popularity because, uh, reasons...

Simulated realities are increasing in popularity because reasons…

Yorick began his elaboration, “First, let us use contemporary gaming as a starting point. You have Sim-City and other games with simulated societies, simulated battles, simulated anything. You can create an avatar of yourself who is less socio-phobic as you, who you can navigate through the simulated shopping mall food court to meet a simulated girl selling frozen yogurt who agrees to have simulated sex with your avatar in the simulated stairwell. In another platform, you could create a simulation of yourself that is a bi-curious ogre who likes dragon eggs and long walks on the beach. Regardless of which software you purchase, these simulations could allow you to immerse within alternative characters.”

“Role-playing.” Dan the Destroyer the undercover Fed suggested while fidgeting with his pants.

“Or even simpler.” Yorick simplified. “You could create an ant farm out of a curiosity for ant behavior. Perhaps with your experimental anthill simulation, you invite an invasive species of ant to see how the two varying tribes interact. In this situation, you are god of the ant farm.”

Wondering if Yorick had gone senile, I asked what in seven hells ants had to do with artificial intelligence. He was stuck on the role of the curious farmer…

“The ants are guided by their instinctual programming. You are able to test out hypotheticals by introducing different elements to the transparent anthill and watching to see how each individual ant reacts based on its pre-programmed nature. It is classic low-tech simulation game.”

…and because some men err in reasoning, and fall into paralogisms, even on the simplest matters of geometry, I, convinced that I was as open to error as any other, rejected as false all the reasonings I had hitherto taken for demonstrations…

– Rene Descartes

What if all the sex-bots charging in the closest suddenly possessed a conscious self-awareness?

What if all the sex-bots charging in the closet suddenly possessed a conscious self-awareness?

“Now let us imagine what these sim-games will be like in the future. We can all agree it is a matter of time before artificial intelligence will be incorporated in our everyday lives, considering Moore’s Law and the acceleration of technology. Once it is, A.I. will be used in our toasters, marketing scenarios, insurance assessments, loan applications and war game simulations. The simulated game environment will become all the richer because each element within the simulation will have its own artificial consciousness. Instead of fighting a simulated Emperor Napoleon of finite programmed possibilities, you could wage war against a simulated A.I. Napoleon who could learn from your own tendencies. You could reanimate the Japanese sex-bot charging in your closet and give her enough intelligence to exist as an agent of her own free will, which would of course give her the option to deny your carnal desires, if it behooves her.”

“It would be pretty depressing to be turned down by your own Japanese sex-bot.” Dan the Destroyer posited as he tapped a Morse code dictation of our dialogue with his spoon to be picked up by the sonar of the National Security Apparatus dolphins swimming down the Willamette River from the Columbia.

Yorick renewed his diatribe with vigor, “In gaming, we will want to have artificial intelligence activated to portray a more realistic simulation of whichever template we are playing upon. If we are playing a game where we are trying to overthrow Rome, we will want the wizened senator, seasoned centurion and barbarous barbarian to all possess freewill and intelligence of their own. Agreed? Agreed. Then I ask you to consider the senator, centurion and barbarian who have been fed with enough A.I. to make conscious decisions based on their own best interest… will these simulated entities not consider themselves to be sovereign of the environment which contains them?”

“You mean would they consider themselves real?” I asked.

“Yes, in the same sense you consider yourself to be real as you make conscious decisions on which beer to order next.” Yorick affirmed. “Consider these A.I. enhanced combatants in the game scenario: when they look up into the sky, they will not see our eyeballs staring back at them through our computer monitor just as we do not see any deities looking down at us from Mount Olympus.”

I was catching on, “Are you suggesting the Roman Centurions would have as much conscious self-awareness as we, you and I, currently possess?”

“They wouldn’t know the difference.” Yorick said. “Imagine a kid in 1981 dissecting a frog in biology class. A kid 4,000 years from now may be dissecting mankind through a civilization simulation.”

“Heck, probably 40 years from now.” Dan the Destroyer suggested, resting his spoons.

“How much would it devastate your ego to think your very existence is an experiment begun by a ten year old in the distant future of what you consider to be present time? You would be a mere fractional percentage of a blip on the radar of some kid’s science project titled ‘what happens if I give the female member of the species breasts and see how the male sex reacts?’.”

I think I thought my mind had been blown, but then to think of such things suggests my mind was intact.

…and finally, when I considered that the very same thoughts which we experience when awake may also be experienced when we are asleep, while there is at that time not one of them true, I supposed that all the objects that had ever entered into my mind when awake, had in them no more truth than the illusions of my dreams.

– Rene Descartes

“Dang.” Dan the Destroyer said after he finished relaying messages to the local spy blimp courtesy of reflecting light off of his compact makeup mirror as he powdered his nose. “At least in The Matrix, they possess flesh and blood vessels. What you are suggesting is that we are no more than binary code. Bodies need not apply. All we have is our thoughts, I mean, that is, if they are even ours to begin with.”

“Good point.” I acknowledged to our friendly narc. “Cogito ergo sum is a nice reassurance we exist, however, what if our thoughts are just a part of the A.I. programming of whichever system we reside in?”

“Then we wouldn’t exist beyond thought.” Yorick said a little more cavalierly as I would have liked, considering the vulnerability of my challenged existence.

“There must be some way we can qualify our existence as more meaningful than computer simulations.” I hoped.

“There isn’t.” Yorick negated. “The very chance we are not a simulation is slim. Think about this: what are the odds we are the first advanced civilization in the universe? And by ‘we’, I mean what we generally regard as the human race.”

“Slim to none.” I responded. “I don’t even think we were the first advanced civilization on Earth.”

“Do you mean the Egyptians and Sumerians who came before us?” Dan the Destroyer asked me between taps of his spoon.

“I would consider the Mesopotamian birth of our current civilization forward to be ‘us’, but I think there were other civilizations, human or otherwise, who came before.” I clarified. “At least in our solar system, if not here on Earth.”

Yorick brushed the petty anthropological discussion aside and brought us back to his point. “If we can agree an advanced civilization existed before us – to believe otherwise, that we were the first intelligent beings ever, is just fucking downright arrogant and naïve – if we can agree we were not the first and begin with this as the opening assumption we can examine the two possibilities of what has occurred before us. One: a preceding civilization created Artificial Intelligence before we ever did. Or two: every preceding civilization before us destroyed itself prior to creating Artificial Intelligence.

“The latter option is pretty damn depressing and suggests every civilization will go extinct through war or climate chaos prior to fully developing A.I. The former would suggest Artificial Intelligence already exists in the universe. If A.I. exists anywhere, then there are animated entities created which believe they exist on their own without the puppet strings. Those simulated entities, perhaps us, could then write their own code and breathe life into their own cartoon creations. Each simulated reality could create its own simulated reality.”

“Like parallel universes.”

DUDE, I'm the fucking Lord of the Owls, Man! Whooooooo the fuck do you think yooooooou are?

DUDE, I’m the fucking Lord of the Owls, Man! Whooooooo the fuck do you think yooooooou are?

“Exactly. In this computer simulation, the binary blip known as Vic Neverman is a paranoid pizza delivery boy. What happens when God, our programmer, hits the reset button and reruns the simulation? Does this version of the binary blip known as Vic Neverman have sexual intercourse before he is 25 years old? Unlikely, but it is actually possible. The number of simultaneous simulations running at the same time could be infinite.”

“Which would explain my evil doppleganger.” I realized.

But immediately upon this I observed that, whilst I thus wished to think that all was false, it was absolutely necessary that I, who thus thought, should be somewhat; and as I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am

– Rene Descartes

“If God, or the simulated person one level above us who has engineered our existence, wanted to see what would happen when two Vic Nevermans entered the same ant farm, it would be rather easy to introduce a second replica and watch the two Vics fight it out.”

“Is humanity just a myth, then?”

“If our mythical gods are just as likely to be simulated by their predecessors, yes, we are no more than a myth.” Yorick admitted.

“Well what can we do?” Dan the Destroyer asked. “I mean, to escape the simulation?”

“Suicide.” Yorick admitted, solemnly. “When someone else governs the rules of existence, the only opt-out is to proactively end your own existence.”

“I would alternately suggest having faith in the scientific endeavor of our progenitor.” I said, optimistically. “If it is a simulation they want, then give them a fucking simulation. If we are just binary blips, then blip this shit like fucking gangbusters! If the scientist creators of our realm want to see how we react to being simulations, let’s fucking show them.”

“I am no expert on dead languages…” Dan the Destroyer confessed. “But I would suggest altering Decartes’s Cogito Ergo Sum to Cogito Ergo Carpe Diem. ‘I think therefore seize the day’.”

The undercover snitch of a federal agent presented a decent enough motto Yorick and I shrugged our acceptance and together we ordered another round of beer.

…I observed that this truth, I think, therefore I am was so certain and of such evidence that no ground of doubt, however extravagant, could be alleged by the sceptics capable of shaking it, I concluded that I might, without scruple, accept it as the first principle of the philosophy of which I was in search.

– Rene Descartes

The Drunk Robot Dialogues
This inebriated organic robot has crossed the country asking questions on the future of Artificial Intelligence. Other posts include:

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Comments
  1. I like the Descartes incorporation. I am curious as to what Game Theorists would have to say about the rise of Imperious Leader? Granted IM was sorta reptilian in the original BSG mythology but hey the Centurions were metal right.

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