In 2014, at a workshop on Brain-Computer Interface(BCI), a woman representing a major part of DARPA said, in summary: “We are cyborgs. We are the borg. Resistance is futile. You WILL be assimilated. You have no choice because the full weight and power of the state and of the corporations behind the state will give you no choice.” This is real. I checked it out – and there was no hyperbole at all (except that this particular woman had not yet been fitted out with any of the existing devices). Many of the billionnaires who imagine that they are funding a movement to restore human freedom probably do not know what their money is actually buying in reality, and where it is heading. But some of us have seen the ground floor realities first hand.
The very powerful borg movement is not made up of the stupidest people on earth. (Earth being what it is, it certainly has stupider ones.) They argue that the sensible way to avoid a struggle for survival between robots and humans is to form a kind of marriage of the two, and turn ourselves into half-and-half. And some folks dream of achieving immortality by downloading themselves into a computer or a robot. (Those folks tend to be true believers in BCI, but not to be aware of just how limited the technology is for benign purposes and just how dangerous for others.) I have opposed the borg movement so hard at times that I have made powerful enemies, probably why I was added later to the long list of people purged from NSF by means I would have thought illegal and impossible in a free country.
But this morning... I realize... we should remember that the earth as a whole is ALREADY a kind of cyborg, and it really is imperative that we think hard about how to adapt to that reality. ALREADY information technology is at a level comparable to money, DNA and spirit as a system which manages the specific information which controls life on this planet. Short of trying to get to a new dark age (an effort which itself would likely lead to war and annihilation, as more than half the people of earth would have to die)... we are called to stretch our minds ‘way beyond Washington, ‘way beyond this week’s hot topics in silicon valley or even most universities... to try to figure out how to design a better, more sustainable and more liberating interface between the IT part of earth and the rest of it.
At present, the issue is incredibly urgent. As the power of IT grows quickly, it becomes ever more urgent that we get the kind of IT which does not suffocate us into a path of decay which implodes – a kind of singularity.
But please forgive if I take the time to explain just a little about what a singularity is.
Most people in futurism think a singularity is that Kurzweil stuff... the idea that AI will cause progress and intelligence to grow more and more quickly, downloading humans into the machines which joyously take over. He is referring to the kind of singularity people learn about in courses in functions f(x). For a function f(x)=1/(x-5), for example, the growth in the function as x rises becomes faster and faster until x reaches 5, and the function goes to infinity. Can humanity achieve transcendence and go to infinity at a finite time form now like that? This idea reminds me a lot of concepts of apotheosis which have been popular all across the earth here and there for millennia.
But more advanced courses talk about partial differential equations (PDE), which address functions like f(x,y,z,t) (among others), to describe a real world which not only changes with time (t) but has some variation or complexity over three-dimensional space (x,y,z). In that world, the issue of singularities is a very series business. For example, what should we think when the PDE which describe the physics of the universe might just blow up under certain conditions? Years ago, to help me understand that physics, I bought a little book by Walter Strauss on Nonlinear Wave Equations... and the issue of sudden breaks was really central to understanding that kind of system. I would want to say more...
But I will limit it to just one example. There are times when people actually WANT to create a singularity. For example, in designing nuclear bombs, one wants to create a compression wave to force the fuel into a smaller and smaller space – like an implosion shrinking it to a point, to where nuclear ignition occurs and an explosion goes off. Lawrence Livermore Labs are working very hard now to design little pellets which they can implode in that way, using lasers to initiate compression waves, so as to create a great new source of energy and of space propulsion. But it is not easy. Everyone knows about compression in general, but how to actually generate that kind of implosion is tough.
Unfortunately, that is exactly the kind of phenomenon I now see before my eyes in the interactions of political, economic and technological forces (IT and energy especially) in human society all over the earth.
Since it involves the interaction of complex nonlinear phenomena, all I can reasonably do in this kind of blog is point to a few strands of hope here and there – and also think about what happens if it all hits the fan about the way one might expect. (Last night’s speech from Trump continues the process of hope dwindling more and more – as he sticks religiously to the idea that his fig leaf of a conflicts law is enough to drain the swamp which is already eating him alive, and to fantasies that it’s Hillary Clinton hiding there with huge jaws beneath the surface... as if she could even swim!)
One of the ... shock waves... involves IT technology, which I still discuss now and then with industry people on some web conversations.
A lot of the present IT developments... remind me of the Three Body sci fi trilogy by Cixin Liu, where he talks about forces trying to flatten the universe actively, from ten dimensions to four to three to two... a process accelerated by folks who use flattening as a weapon. That’s not a bad metaphor for the way in which badly used IT, IT used as “artificial stupidity” (AS), can be flattening to human existence,
destructive to body body and soul. Since I know these types of IT extremely well, it is so tempting to go into very specific detail... but let me just be brief as I was on the webcast the other day.
One major problem is that folks developing IT systems are often guided by a powerful tacit assumption that an IT system must be a kind of top down control system, or at least a system which gets its
primary values from a top down, single source. I am guilty of fostering that kind of thinking myself to some degree (see that Handbook of RLAP by Lewis and Liu, the best book on the most advanced designs of this family). But in fact, there are folks devoutly dedicated to the caste system (literally!) and to fixed point control (actually aiming at shrinking life to a point, really) who have had far more devastating impacts on these directions.
But what is a constructive way out, on an earth where IT WILL be in charge more and more? Above all, where is a serious alternative general design paradigm, without which implosion will continue regardless of what other crises we learn to deal with?
At www.werbos.com/Mind.htm, I give a link to a talk I gave in plain English to leaders in the RLADP area, all about the incredibly huge risks and opportunities coming up quickly (as in singularity) in the world of real intelligent systems. (Not just the dreams from afar like Kurzweil’s.) An obvious question: where is there a mathematically solid and well-defined alternative to that kind of top-down control.
An obvious response (from one of two “hopeful examples” I talked about): can we not ground the new IT system which will run the world (inevitably!) on MULTIPLAYER optimization theory or games
rather than single player optimization?
Is there any way to make that real?
We can learn a whole lot of lessons from the electric power system, if we dig enough deeply into how it really works and not fall into the trap of believing the gross untruths which the local money folks tell to people like Trump or like the leaders of IBM research. Again, it is hard for me to resist saying more about very important details (but many are covered in various parts of www.werbos.com already). The key point is that an IT system can be designed to be more like an intelligent market, getting its values from the humans... There are many, many limits to such systems, and many lessons about what needs IMPROVEMENT in the electric power system, from security to balance to fairness... but even more important are the lessons about a better way to organize other IT systems, all the way to things at the governance level.
But this week it hits me: all these traditional market-based IT systems (much fairer than the corrupt nonsense we see in DC) are still INCREMENTAL in nature. They remind me of my very first task in my first tenured job, at DOE, when I managed a grant to Oak Ridge to do a deep mathematical study of the DOE long-range energy forecasting model. That model was grounded very firmly in market equilibrium economics, and had been adapted from the best model of Shell Oil, which was helping DOE out from its beginning. The Oak Ridge folks discovered... multiple solutions. Even traditional market economics is ambiguous! It suffers from what mathematicians call a nonconvexity problem.
Market economics still allows different paths into the future. In neural networks.... everyone knows that this is the “local optimum” problem, and serious mathematicians know that ALL nonlinear systems we design have that problem to some degree as an inevitable issue. (I have written satirical blogs before analyzing the glossy eyed salesmen who try to convince people they have a universal solution to the problem, a perfect and infallible silver bullet. More dreams of apotheosis?)
In RLADP, we do have ways to REDUCE the nonconvexity problem ... by a whole level... by
NONINCREMENTAL systems... systems adapted by incremental means to achieve nonincremental goals. How to say it in words? I published a design called GDHP... too complex for the simpler problems we solved before with simpler neural networks (like accurate missile interception, per work of Balakrishnan with DHP and then his simplified DHP)... so is that we would need to get out of the implosion now underway, if we had a more intelligent market-style IT top level? (The secure lower level is also important to IT of course, but I have already written about that essential design component here; see “cyberblitzkrieg.”)
I don’t know.
It reminds me of when Guido DeBoeck, who set up the trading room for the World Bank, wrote an important seminal book, Trading on the Edge, and asked me for a foreword (as I was known as the source of the algorithms which worked best). I agreed, and wrote a four page foreword – two pages extolling what I did forty years ago and how to use it to make money in trading (as requested), and two pages discussing how we could have financial crisis if everyone kept moving that way (a kind of minimplosion, which did happen of course in 2008) and how to use automated DHP to get better valuations and a better trading system to avoid that. Since he, like Trump, wanted good news, he just used the first two pages... so do we need to get back to the hard work? Do we need an automated GDHP kind of system, to make up for the failure of individual humans to see the big picture or create organizations with enough honesty and intelligence and sanity to meet the minimal requirements for staying alive? I wonder. But if the humans keep acting nuts enough, we won’t even have the minimal EMP or cyberblitzkrieg defenses which even a dumb organism should be able to appreciate, even though the IT aspects and device technology are all worked out already!!
And that all naturally has gotten me to maintain discussions about what people call afterlife.
I have often written about the beautiful and lucid concept of “alchemical marriage,” which I interpret as an effective Pareto optimal partnership and integration of body and “soul.” (I put “soul” in quotes only because so many people have so many weird specific theories about what that life form is. Some people speak from experience, while others are motivated by greed and desire for power or desire for fixed-point control to make all people shut up who would dare to speak from experience. Like those “scientists” who try to suppress data and prevent experiments lest they contradict their beloved theories.)
But as we get older, the question arises: what happens when the soul part of us becomes a widow?
Well, we’re not the same person after that, and we should not kid ourselves about it. But it is also a well-established cycle of life, which should not drive us to irrationality either. It is part of nature, and nature is who we are.
From the viewpoint of the soul, I have at times compared the body/brain to a car or to a collection of files.
For example... vain people pay too much attention to their bodies, in a silly way, which Quakers rightly do not encourage; it is a classic case of misplaced myopic priorities. But classic Hindu ascetics would totally ignore or even beat up the body. That is like unto the person who doesn’t even do basic maintenance for his/her car, in hopes of spending less time on it. In reality, if you choose to have a car (another issue which varies), you end up wasting less time and energy and money if you do reasonable preventive maintenance. Same with the body. So I am no athlete, but I work to get a certain level of physical exercise (at maximum value and minimum cost) and learn other ways to be efficient about a reasonable level of preventive maintenance – and not putting effort into advanced anti-aging technologies which it would hurt humanity to possess at this level of its development.
Re files: I remember when my father had to give up his company president office in downtown Philadelphia, and thus most of his file cabinets. “Those are my brains!” he exclaimed one day. “Without them, I feel I am only half as intelligent as I was.” Anyone who doubts their brain is so important should try harder to experience what it is like wandering around just as soul for a little while, and really test themselves in that state... as Gurdieff once would discuss, when he was relaxed enough to trust people. (When people voted for Trump and Bannon, I think they were hoping for someone more like Gurdjieff, who used weird talk just to wake people up... but Trump now seems to be headed for deeper sleep lately, even rolling around less and less in bed.)
“The obvious response,” I mentioned to some friends the other day, “Is to put any really important data onto ‘hard disk,’ onto the soul. If you don’t, you may lose it.”
“Ah,” said Marie... “But if your soul is developed enough, it gets access to all the information in the cosmos, so nothing is really lost.” As in “who needs your files, when you have achieved access to the internet?”
That was a bit of a tricky zinger. It reminds me of the older question: “If all the information is there in cosmic consciousness, who needs this school of a planet anyway?”
Part of the answer is that people tend to exaggerate. When they see something bigger than they are, they tend to assume it is infinitely big. All-wise omniscient parents, for example. Not EVERYTHING
is there on the internet, and it is even possible for mere humans to upgrade what is available and known on the internet. That’s part of the answer.
Another part... reminds me of my old ... sort of collaborator... Karl Pribram, a name you can find on the web, well worth looking up. In his world... many people distinguished between PROCEDURAL memory and EPISODIC memory. That’s a bit oversimplified... but it’s good enough for here and now. The key point is that the memories and learning which you build up in your soul in a lifetime on earth are not ONLY episodic data, like bland recording of external data, but also ... things like skills or habits or attitudes... active kinds of memory which steer what you do, and “who you are.” For example, having physical access to the internet (like cosmic consciousness) is not important by itself, if you don’t learn the ACTIVE SKILL of how to use it. (For example, with cosmic consciousness, learning to pose questions, wait, engage dialogue, bear with certain flows... ). All of that determines what your afterlife is actually like or whether you end up so useless that you join the majority in .. well,
it’s like the Book of Esdras. Saint Paul made it clear that those who overflow with faith but no spirit or charisma... well, maybe it’s kinder to compare them to camels with no hope of making it through the eye of a needle. We have ever so many camels like that on earth.. and that is another part of why implosion seems likely.
I should perhaps have continued the joke from last time: “Of course, we do not know how soon evacuation will be necessary, because of course people have free will and because we juggle multiple paths also. Our duty is to help as best we can, and to fulfill due diligence, and certainly clean up when it is time to remove the mess.”