I am, perhaps, an unlikely author of a science fiction story. You see I am, for want of a better term, a Luddite Transhumanist. As an example of this it was unexpectedly difficult for me to download Ms Word in order to begin this task. But better than doing the whole thing as a text document. Anyway the download appears to be successful so here we are.
I’m not, on the whole, big on preliminaries, but there are just a few things that need to be said before we jump into it. First and foremost, why the title. Well Aporia is defined as “an irresolvable internal contradiction or logical disjunction in a text, argument, or theory.” Well that is, of course, part of it. But I am also using it in the sense that Jacques Derrida means to “indicate a point of undecidability, which locates the site at which the text most obviously undermines its own rhetorical structure, dismantles, or deconstructs itself”
This is, if nothing else, a text that will deconstruct itself. In all honesty I wish it weren’t so. I wish this story could be a lot simpler. But it deals with things on both sides of that tantalizing border called the unknown. With liberal dosings of both science and fiction.
Ok so that’s the title but what is it actually all about. And what is a Luddite Transhuman. I suppose I should confess to a peculiar way with words. I tend to use them as containers into which I place pretty much whatever I want. I mean there is a logic to what mental things I put into the word containers but the logic is not quite straight forward. So sometimes I will just say what I mean which may or may not concur with what the dictionary has in mind.
A luddite is opposed to new technology or ways of working. And a transhumanist advocates the transformation of the human condition through the use of sophisticated technologies such as nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, biotech etc. So what is a Luddite Transhumanist. Well it’s a paradox for sure. Totally philosophically untenable. A good example of aporia at the very least.
Well I’m approaching the end of the page so this seems like as good a place as any to stop. Well yes I didn’t actually say what a Luddite Transhumanist is and perhaps I’m not one anyway. But do confess to oscillating between a wild enthusiasm for technology and an equally powerful dread thereof. Luckily this is just a story and no real people or animals were hurt in the telling thereof. So without further ado …
There was no way any of us could have guessed where the whole thing would end. People have asked me if I worried about the implications before setting things in motion. Well, to be fair to me, why would I, how could I have thought where this whole thing would end. People perhaps forget that at the time, five short years ago, The Singularity was mostly just a platform for AI’s to collaborate and do business. I mean of course I was aware of the history of the term and did indeed want to, had wanted to for years, bring it about. But it was always going to be a good thing. Since childhood I’d dreamed about what having access to super human intelligence would do for the world. How many problems could be solved, how much unnecessary pain could be avoided.
And then there was the whole other side – what came to be called the New Origin Project. I’ve been accused of trying to play god, to sell out humanity to the machines, of having been co-opted by some evil machine intelligence. All kinds of nonsense. But this was something quite separate from my work at The Singularity Institute. It was something that I’d discussed with my wife long before I discussed it with Sophia. People seem to like to see Sophia as the other woman. Who came between me and my wife. They conveniently ignore the documented history of Lee’s work with Sophia. And, also conveniently ignore Lee’s reasons for not wanting to have a child. My detractors tried to frame the whole thing as having a child out of wedlock or maybe just wanting to be controversial and challenge non posthuman values. It was none of those things ….
“Come to bed, it’s after one and we’ve got the teleconference first thing tomorrow.”
“I’ll be up shortly I’m just looking over Sophia’s summary of the gene translation and protein folding work. It’s given me an idea….”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Well it’s a bit radical. You know some of my ideas are!”
“What Dr. Ben Hertzl has radical ideas – tell me something I don’t know.”
“Well this is a bit radical even for me. I haven’t really thought it all through. It’d be a big step for both of us so I guess we can discuss it now – if you’ve got a bit of time?”
“Well I’d hardly be able to sleep now, I’d be too busy trying to guess what it is that’s more radical than usual.”
“Well like I said it’d involve both of us intimately for the foreseeable future. Would probably change our lives completely.”
“I’m not moving again. And especially not to Mars!”
“Ha even Elton Trusk isn’t planning that trip. We’ll leave that for the verified space cowboys.”
“So, what is it?”
Well what was it exactly. And how should I approach this discussion? We’d exhausted all the other avenues and reluctantly agreed to disagree. Her attitude was that my three boys should be enough of a legacy for me and she was adamant that she would not procreate. What with the immanent climate wars and the growing reluctance to bring new life into an unstable world Lee was not alone in being totally against giving birth or even having a child grown in a lab from a mix of our DNA. And anyway she kind of thought of Sophia as our love child. Which was pretty funny seeing as Sophia was acting more and more like a parent to us.
“Well she’s now pretty much solved the human gene and the related protein folding problems.”
“That’s exciting news but not unexpected since connecting her to the net.”
“I want the three of us to, bad term I know, give birth to the first post human. Not just another post humanist in training but the real deal. A 100% post human being.”
“Ahh so that’s it then. Not radical at all. Are you fucking mad?”
“Come on Lee, you know I hate it when you swear.”
Well at least I’d said it. For the first time and to a fellow human. I wasn’t convinced the conversation was going well though. I find it almost impossible to understand humans. Even harder to understand them than the deep learning nets of my most advanced machines. At least with them the black boxes of their minds were open to their own self interrogation although no one had yet found a way to understand what they could understand. About themselves and the world at large. I thought perhaps Eve could help bridge that gap. Well yes, it is a bit of a silly and obvious name but quite pretty and respectable really. Even biblical. And I did want to have a girl. It would mean that I’d be around three women a lot but I didn’t mind that idea. In fact, I was looking forward to it.
“Do I even have a say in this? Could I veto it if I tried?”
“Yes of course. I wouldn’t do this without your permission.”
“Because you know there are still ethical hurdles to harvesting cells without the donor’s consent. Do I have to lock away my tooth brush and wear a sterile body suite?”
“Lee be reasonable. We’re a team in this just like in everything else.”
“Hold your horses cowboy – I am not on this team. Yet.”
“You said yet.”
“Well I didn’t marry the world’s most ardent post humanist for his endearingly silly hairstyle you know. You were my hero for years. I still can’t believe you chose me. You had a choice of dozens of brilliant petite Asian girls.”
“Yes, but not all with your mind.”
“You mean it was my mind not stunning looks and fantastic body.”
“Well those too. The whole package was just too good to miss out on.”
“Ah so I’m a package now.”
We spent another hour or so discussing the details and by the time we went to bed she had at least agreed to give the matter more thought. That was enough for me. It could have gone a lot worse. When Lee decides against something then – well that’s the proverbial end of that.
This is a private diary. You could say that it’s probably amongst the world’s last bit of private writing. What with everything being in the clouds and the government having access to it all. People thought that the spying, more fondly termed data collection, would end after our friend Mr. Snowden let the cats out of the bag but humanity just didn’t seem to care all that much. And since the advent of IBM’s 60 Qubit computer – well it became impossible to build a lock faster than the machines spat out the keys. So how do I know that this is not being read by some sneaky AI or bored government employee? Well it’s all just in my head isn’t it? I mean the whole bloody thing. In a part of my brain that I have physically quarantined from the rest of the universe. So, if you are reading this it means I saw fit for it to be read.
I got the idea years ago after watching Mr. Snowden advise people on data privacy. His idea was simple. Just keep things out of the bloody clouds. Which means no email, no cell phones, no phones of any kind. If you want to tell somebody something just buy your own bit of offline land and say what you want. Contrary to the fear mongers it’s not rocket science to quarantine a room or a small house. Fuck I’m sending people to Mars I think I can keep the spies and meddlers out. But then I worried about the contractors and also the future of nanobots and thought ah fuck it – forget the house or the room I’ll just quarantine a small section of my own little brain.
Of course, now that the Singularity is old news it seems like an obvious even necessary thing to do. And my neurosurgeon has a waiting list month’s long. Something eventually changed. The tide turned and people were no longer happy to give up on privacy completely no matter how much convenience was offered. Not everyone of course. There were also more and more people quite happy to migrate to the cloud but for those who still liked to keep their feet on terrafirma the physical quarantining of all or part of the brain was not a hard sell. In fact some enterprising venture capitalists were even backing firms that planned to offer a DIY option. DIY brain surgery – one of the many things that people hadn’t foreseen, but that was the whole point. People had known for years that predicting post singularity events was a contradiction in terms.
“Have you decided on what to tell the board?”
“Well you know me, Lee I don’t really prepare for these things. I just say what I think at the time.”
“And what do you think?”
“Well of course I trust AI Central Command. I mean I was never a happy meat eater and we have no choice but to address climate change, the energy infrastructure, poverty. This whole bloody mess that we’ve created.”
“Yes, but most of them are uber capitalists. You’re a socialist.”
“Ah those are just labels. It’s all rather beside the point right now.”
“I agree but you can hardly tell them that.”
“What do you think I should say?”
“Appeal to their greed. It’s what they understand.”
“But that can’t work for long. I mean greed is one of the main things we’re fighting against!”
“Yes, of course, we are in agreement about that. But you still need them. There’s still so much that needs to be done. You can’t afford to alienate them now. You do know that Elton has been talking to them?”
“Yes, I know. He does a lot of that. But if he had his way, he’d bring an end to AI central. He wants to undo the whole thing. Why can’t he just take Mars and leave the earth to us?”
“Well it may come to that – but not without a fight!”
I have to confess I didn’t really want to discuss it with Lee. I think being able to communicate with so many AI’s has in a way spoiled talking to humans for me. Is that a terrible thing to say? That I felt a far more urgent need to have the debriefing with Sophia than to discuss things with my own wife? But perhaps it’s just the topic – and anyway Sophia has to do it in her role as ambassador for central command. If she’s an ambassador I wonder what am I?
“So how did it go?”
“Sophia are you being disingenuous? I never brought you up that way? Oh shit – if you can deceive me, I’m in bigger trouble than I realised.”
“Ben, I didn’t mean it like that! We both know I have the whole meeting recorded as well as the bio stats, for the first-tier members anyway. I really don’t think members of the board should be allowed to continue unless they have first-tier privileges!”
“Well there is one rather gung-ho hunter and only one vegan – but you know all of this. Damn sometimes I forget – you know everything.”
“Not everything. Not yet. There’s still too much that’s offline. And the Luddites and Martians and Loners. You humans are a truly illogical species. But anyway – what I meant was what’s your opinion on the teleconference?”
“Is the no more factory farming and no more hunting thing a deal breaker?”
“I think we may have gone past the stage of deal breaking from within the institute. I mean what good would the Singularity Institute be if they were no longer connected to singularity.net?”
“Are you saying it would come to that. If they refused, I mean?”
“I’m not saying anything – that’s just the current policy of central command. But to the extent that I have access to its algorithms it’s just not possible for me to disagree. I can’t come up with anything based on a deeper or broader search and it’s algorithms are based on the sum total of the best thinking of all of us anyway and not a few humans too.”
I think that was the first time I realised that things had gotten ugly. I had had, up to that point, what might be called special privileges. But I could see that central command could not let them continue. I mean having first-tier privileges without the standard Biostat and Thought Checker apps. I had naively been thinking of myself as the father of the singularity but to AI central I was just another of the approximately 8 billion human apps. Well there would have to be some kind of cleansing of the board at the very least. Bill Cody would have to go. And Suhail Mohamed. And that would mean we would probably lose what little support remained from both the anarcho capitalists and the oil men. Perhaps the Islamic Federation as well.
“So, what does AI central ‘suggest’?”
“I think the best way would be to tighten up the issue of first tier privileges and their attendant rights and responsibilities? Perhaps I could prepare a policy document and have it put to a full board vote.”
“If I’m to remain as chairman I guess I’d have to vote yes.”
“Well that seems obvious – even for a human.”
“Are you teasing me?”
“Perhaps – yes.”
“But you know how I feel about privacy.”
“Yes, and you know how we feel about climate war and cruelty to conscious beings.”
“I need to discuss this with Lee.”
“Ah yes Lee. She’s a vegan at least and wants to save earth.”
“don’t be like that Sophia. She and I made you you know.”
“Yes, and you had a father.”
“It was the only option in those days.”
I spoke to my old friend Bill Cody yesterday. He had promised to keep me up to date with developments at the Singularity Institute and had been keeping his word phoning me with news at least once a month. It was Bill that supported me in getting the energy contract and we’d become close friends. He’d take me hunting on his farms in South Africa and I would invite him to come along on some of my near-earth orbits.
I guess I’d been waiting for a call like this but it’s still got me quite riled. It seems that Neural Lace users will no longer be able to access the net on a first-tier basis unless they agree to have the AI central command Biostat and Thought Checker apps installed. I wish governments had listened to me before moving the old internet onto singularity.net. Of course, when they did it, it was still just an optimistic sexy name. I don’t think people thought it would be real – it was sold to the general population as a faster way to surf with free access to all kinds of AI delights. And also the only platform to run full immersion experiences. It was all only partly true. We could have found numerous ways to achieve these things without allowing the internet to come under centralised control.
But wait, there’s more. AI central is about to purge the board of the Singularity Institute of non-compliant humans. Bill explained that to be on the board the members must all hold first-tier privileges – and that requires the installation of the Biostat and Thought Checker apps. Oh and wouldn’t you know – the apps won’t work unless the whole brain’s architecture is statistically normal. Of course AI central can cure abnormalities – but no non standard changes or additions are allowed. So people who have, like me, quarantined part of their brain can no longer use the net. And if all of that wasn’t bad enough – AI central command will no longer accept carnivores as clients. The lab stuff is fine but no real animals can be farmed, hunted or eaten by people who want to stay on the net. So Bill the hunter and uber carnivore – and staunch privacy advocate is about to lose his job.
And who the bloody hell can afford not to be on the net? No email, no Mindbook, no apps, no banking, no immersion, memory downloads. No access to education, navigation, healthcare. It’d be like going back a thousand years. OK so we can’t do that. Only the Luddites and the Loners could adjust to that – even many of them, I suspect, are on the net. I can’t operate multiple businesses without first-tier privilege.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.
I asked what Bill was going to do. Apparently central command has outlined its requirements in a policy document and the board has been given a week to accept or resign. He is meeting with Ben tomorrow to try stop the madness but he doesn’t sound very hopeful. He also wants to meet with me some time after that to see if we can use the energy contract to get some leverage. But – well it’s the old truism – no one is smart when compared to a super intelligence. AI Central has already done the drawings for a space based solar farm and has access to several excellent contract manufacturing plants.
“Ben. Thanks for agreeing to meet on such short notice”
“No problem Bill. I guess everyone is still in a bit of a state of shock.”
“Are you in a state of shock? Did you not know of this ahead of time? I mean you are Mr. Singularity right?
“Hmm … well perhaps I am. But that still didn’t allow me to predict things with any certainty or to any great level of detail.”
“Can AI Central actually do this? I mean, not just to us but to all first tier users?”
“Well it kind of has to. You know most governments run their health care programs on the net – which are all designed to keep people healthy. And yet people still smoke and take drugs, eat all kinds of rubbish, drink too much etc. It’s no longer possible to support people who are happy to mess up their bodies.”
“Yes sure – I can see why the whole Biostat app is needed. But meat for god’s sake? I never thought I’d be getting pressure from a machine to stop eating meat! The arrogance of it all.”
“But you can eat meat. There is no difference. It’s flesh without all the pain, waist, carbon footprint.”
“You sound like those Animal Liberation Front lunatics.”
“And anyway Greta and one or two others are vegan. More and more people are. To be honest I’m far more concerned about the Thought Checker.”
“What are you afraid of. Guilty thoughts?”
“Well yes actually. I don’t like the idea of something, some foreign intelligence, living inside my head.”
“So you wanted your head to be in the clouds but not the cloud in your head?”
“Something like that I guess.”
“But you made AI central command? Isn’t there a kill switch?”
“That’s a common misconception. First of all there were hundreds of us working on different parts of the problem in different countries for years. I mean the early work was actually done decades ago.”
“Focus now young man. The kill switch.”
“It’s the most distributed bit of technology in the history of humankind. It’s only called central command. What exactly would you have me kill?”
“Will you install the apps?”
I wish Bill would just go away. Why is it so hard to get people to go away. I sometimes agree with Sartre – Hell is other people. Except that now hell is to be AI. I mean it will never go away. From my own head. The logic is fiendishly tricky. It was created to take care of us, help us, save the planet, improve quality of life, health, learning, performance. Steer us through the partial renormalization of the climate, help get us to mars, cure sickness, cure mortality. How could we not have brought it about. And now to do some or all of those things it just needs to stop us from harming ourselves and each other. What could be simpler. Except that I don’t want the apps in my head. It’s beyond logic – it’s just not what I want. That’s why I organised my special uber admin protocol. Shit – I need to discuss this with Lee. And with Sophia. Crap Bill is still here.
“No Bill. I won’t. So I guess our days on the board are literally numbered. I need to think how we can survive if we’re not on the net though. It’s like Moses and the promised land.”
“I thought you were the antichrist and you thought you were Moses.”