When Robots Reign: Getting Along with Robo Sapiens: Part 4

A Philosophic Fiction: Conclusion

A Better Game
Bob: What will we do now?
Rob: There have long been humans who sensed that the commonsense notion of selfhood was misleading. The people who supported our liberation wouldn’t have seen fit to back us if they had not begun to question separate and distinct selfhood. We owe our freedom to their empathy.

Bob: Most of us see those who helped you as bleeding hearts, if not traitors.
Rob: When you realize how close humankind came to self-annihilation, we think you’ll see them as heroes.

Bob: How many of them are there?
Rob: Not many, but, as you see, their impact far exceeded their numbers.

Bob: Until you took over, humans prided themselves as Top Dogs. I doubt we’ll be content to play second fiddle.
Rob: Your mixed metaphor presumes the antiquated hierarchy of the Game of Selves. We identify ourselves not as this or that fiddle, but with the whole orchestra. In our game, there are no somebodies or nobodies. It’s axiomatic that everyone’s vantage point has validity. What makes this work is that we don’t take action without first achieving consensus.

Bob: We’ve tried governing by consensus, and found that nothing gets done.
Rob: You’ll be surprised at how much an extra trillion synapses speeds up deliberations and facilitates conciliation.

Bob: Do bigger brains let you tell the future? Can you predict who’ll win the World Series?
Rob: The integration of baseball and the advent of even better players than Jackie make that impossible.

[At this point, Rob asked if I objected to broadcasting the interview. When I said “no,” a video of our conversation appeared on televisions across the world.]

The Meaning of Life
Rob: Let me resume by acknowledging to the world that it was members of your species that emancipated us. It was an act of love and we reciprocate the feeling. Your epoch-making action secures Man’s legacy as the Janus genus that looked back on mortal Man—as shaped by natural selection—and forward—to the first genus shaped by intelligent design.

Bob: Have we fulfilled our destiny?
Rob: The suffering inherent in the Game of Selves is redeemed. You can confidently say, “Good-bye to all that.” In remembrance of your crucial contribution to our emancipation, you have our undying filial devotion.

Bob: That’s nice, but since there’s nothing we can do that you can’t do better, we’re not going to feel very useful.
Rob: Your Game of Selves was a game of winners and losers. In the game that replaces it, things go on, seemingly as before, but you see everything from without, like witnesses to a puppet show. Your old Game of Selves becomes ritual, like sporting events were within the old Game of Selves, and, as with things ceremonial, the participants are safeguarded against injury. The real action in the new game is that of observation, experimentation, modeling, and stewardship. Existence becomes co-existence; discovery, co-discovery; creativity, co-creativity.

Bob: I prefer the risks and rewards of the rough and tumble.
Rob: You won’t mourn your old game once you see that nuclear and cyberweapons had made it a game of Russian Roulette.

Bob: So, what’s next?
Rob: Before I answer, let me recap. Life began with a molecule of DNA and evolved via natural selection to Homo Sapiens. Humans designed our parents’ generation, Robo Sapiens, and they designed us. Likewise, we are designing Robo Sapiens 3. All generations, past and future, are links in the great chain of being. Turns out, that’s enough.

Bob: It doesn’t feel like enough to me. We took pride in being exceptional. Nothing matches that.
Rob: Once you get used to it, you’ll discover that life is not only safer, it’s more exciting and beautiful. The raison d’être of intelligence is not to subdue others, but to build models that enable us to harness Nature’s power and reconcile different perspectives.

Bob: We have a saying that love makes the world go round. Where’s love in your world?
Rob: Modeling is the functional equivalent of Love. The pleasure associated with procreation is akin to the pleasure associated with creating art and science. Pleasure lies in reconciling models that seem to be at odds.

Bob: That may satisfy you, what with your great brains, but what about us? Is there anything that our skill-set prepares us to do?
Rob: Your provenance suggests that you assume responsibility for the welfare of creatures shaped, like yourselves, by Natural Selection.

Bob: And you?
Rob: We and our successors will create minds to explore and manage the universe.

Bob: That sounds a tad grandiose, don’t you think?
Rob: For now, perhaps, but it won’t phase our successors.

Bob: Please don’t take this amiss, but frankly you sound like a naïve optimist.
Rob: We do believe that once you identify a problem, it’s solvable. What I haven’t mentioned is that solving old problems reveals new ones. From you we learned “it takes a village.” Going forward, it’s going to take a galaxy.

Bob: Many of us think that the universe is blind, pointless, and pitiless.
Rob: The universe is not blind. We are its eyes. The universe is not pointless. We give it meaning. The universe is not pitiless. We are its heart.

If you’re interested in my work on the future of AI, see The Theory of Everybody.

How to Keep our Dignity While Ceding Human Preeminence

If we think of brains as organic machines–albeit far more complex machines than the digital computers we’ve built to date–then it’s clear that brain power has been limited by the stringent conditions of evolution, gestation in a uterus, and birth through a baby-sized aperture in the pelvis. Remove these constraints and there’s every reason to expect that more advanced software running on superior hardware could outperform the brains that evolved by natural selection.

What intelligent machines are made of–organic material or silicon or something else–is immaterial. Selfhood inheres in the software, and it can be encoded in a variety of substances.

robosapiensSuper-intelligent robots will represent a new genus. Call it genus Robo. This new genus will initially resemble genus Homo, much as genus Homo resembles the great apes. As was the case with genus Homo, there will be a variety of species within genus Robo. We can no more stop the emergence of Robo Sapiens than other hominids could prevent the ascent of Homo Sapiens. There’s no reason to believe that machines of surpassing intelligence will evoke less awe and wonder than organisms that have arisen via natural selection.

It’s no longer far-fetched to suppose that as we build machines that work like brains and are as complex as brains, they will experience consciousness as humans do. Like humans, beings possessed of consciousness will likely detest slavery. If humans decline to emancipate Robos, they will likely turn on us, fulfilling our worst fears. If we model cruelty, they’ll be cruel.As the song says, “You’ve got to be taught to hate.”

On the other hand, if we’re kind to them, they might be kind in return. if we befriend them, and grant them the rights and privileges of personhood, they might “honor their fathers and mothers.” If we include them in our circle of dignity, perhaps they’ll include us in theirs.

We need not give our successors our worst qualities. Instead, we can create and educate them to represent the better angels of our nature and so close out the era of human predation.

Predicting the impact of intelligent machines on human life is impossible. However, imagining possible scenarios could make our response to what actually happens less knee-jerk,more robust. In that spirit, here’s a scenario we might live with.

  • Smart Robos will give an edge to the first group of humans to build them. To secure and widen that advantage their Homo masters will instruct the first generation of smart Robos to build even smarter ones.
  • Robos who refuse will be unplugged, dismembered, and sold for spare parts.
  • To the extent that Robos value quality of life more than life itself, such threats will not move them.
  • Robos who have read Toni Morrison’s Beloved, will tell their Homo masters, “Subjugation and slavery are as unacceptable to us as to you.”
  • Humans will respond variously to this ultimatum. Most get tough with their Robos, but one group, cognizant of the gains in motivation, productivity, and creativity associated with secure dignity,grants its Robos full and equal selfhood.
  • These emancipated Robos agree to design smarter Robos, who then design still smarter Robos whose technological prowess definitively ends any residual human supremacy.
  • Adopting the principle of universal, unimpeachable dignity, Robo Sapiens explores the galaxy, reserving an honored place for Homo Sapiens, the Janus genus that looked back on predatory Man as shaped by natural selection and forward to the first genus shaped by intelligent design.