Dr. Ray Kurzweil’s book “The Singularity is Near” peaked my interest when he posited his reasoning for why there is likely no intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. By a mere matter of odds, most of us assume (likely myself included) that there simply must be some kind of super-intelligent species “out there somewhere.”
One of the many postulations made (the book is more than worth reading), is that species might – at the point of attaining a certain degree of capacity or intelligence – destroy themselves. Could be bombs, could be nanotechnologies, could be super-intelligent computers – but something batters them back to the stone age – or worse.
The World Ending, and the General “Slippery Slope” Issues
In thinking recently on topics related to ethical enhancement and human enhancement in general, I came to the notion that this “self-extermination theory” might pan out in some other interesting and less considered ways. Generally, the fear is nuclear holocaust, a super-intelligent computer making killing machines like in the “Terminator” movies, and nanotechnology “grey goo” eating up all the atoms in our atmosphere.
None of these endings should be taken lightly, and all involve a kind of “Slippery Slope” problem. If we create nuclear weapons… other countries will create nuclear weapons. You know – just in case. Which of course doesn’t make us want to make less, but more of them. If a super-intelligence is given sufficient ability to enhance and continue to build upon itself, there seems to be a kind of threshold where that now-sentient machine can grow in it’s capacities exponentially, and possibly use us for the molecules and atoms we contain to aide in it’s continued growth.
Different Opinions, Different Enhancements… No Sandbox is Big Enough
It seems that if the ability to enhance human cognition and general abilities (physically, mentally, etc…) would pose serious social issues and also subsequently “enhance” a tremendous number of social problems. Humans, in my opinion, are less likely to agree when one hundred (or one thousand… or one million) times more intelligent than they are a present.
If in America, certain intelligence enhancement technology become possible (never mind legal), it seems very likely that this information will make it’s way to other parts of the world. If China now makes legal these technologies that were illegal (but possible) in America, we’ll probably only accept being “dumber” than China for so long before we aim to catch up. If their super-smart scientists and businessmen start running circles around us, it’s unlikely that we’ll simple accept inferiority. Russia didn’t accept inferiority when America created the atom bomb.
With enhanced folks in charge, disagreements on entirely new philosophical, intellectual and political levels will likely take place more rapidly than at present. This could be said to be the case even if we were “enhanced” in a specific and very calibrated way that led us to get along with others and share a common moral ground or sense of Libertarian “so you as you don’t harm me”-ness. If one country or party in power sees an opportunity to better themselves or their lot by not conforming to these “get-along” enhancements, they might be able to clean up house by swooping in with malicious, super-intelligent plans of world domination.
Though there is the possibility of squelching all wrong-doing and vice through enhancement (though I would argue that this would be a difficult task), this is not to say that anyone will abide by those standards of enhancement, or that even perfectly benevolent sentient beings can’t have irreparable differences that lead to some form of conflict.
I’ll admit, I’m eager to see the first two enhanced human beings argue over something – I hope sparks fly. I have to make one pun every 10,000 words and today was the day – forgive me.
Virtual Reality as an Escape Hatch – and Conclusion
With this being said, there seems to be a low chance of eliminating grand conflict when multiple mega-intelligences are vying for influence at once. If we are looking for our respective freedom with regard to the creative ways that we enhance ourselves (as we make decision today about how we “customize” other areas of our inner and outer lives), it seems difficult to imagine a peaceful world or co-habitation.
If we seek a kind of custom or tailored enhancement, this may require a simulated reality where we are able to live in the “Labyrinth” of our own precepts, and choose to experience what we wish, when we wish, how we wish – though this, too, seems to be no panacea when it comes to fulfillment or a happy existence, as us mortals have been known to think things good which in fact are not (in quantity, quality, context, etc…).
Though, who’s going to step into the virtual reality willingly? I argue many will, once sufficient evidence supports it’s utility in the attainment of desired ends (happiness, longevity, richness of experience, etc…). However, if a computer virus was able to attack all of the conscious beings trapped in these machines, that might be a fate worse than hell (a consideration that will inevitably be encountered).
What seems to make the most sense – though it’s implementation will be tremendously difficult – would be the close monitoring and examining of all consciousness-altering technologies, ensuring that their roll-out is not premature / inadequate, destructive, or otherwise dangerous. Easier said than done.
Though, the regulation of technology will be much harder once everyone with laptop can create virtual realities and clone mammals…
Food for thought,