February 28th, 2021

📝 Human Beings as Intelligent Robots

Aren't we humans kind of terrifying things?

Baby's napping. Yesterday we took bikes across the river to dwell for some days in this Airbnb house for a change of scenery. I forgot to bring some things, including my laptop charger. I'm down to 11%.

On the way out from our apartment yesterday, a can of Estonian birch-flavored lager suddenly exploded in my backpack, and my space bar has a hangover. But I want to write something brief.

I was thinking about how a human being is such a strange and powerful object, especially in the capacity for intentional drives that last many years.

A motorcycle is also quantifiably powerful, but its behavior is simple.

Here's a ridiculous comparison: a Person is like an extremely advanced robot hooked up to an artificial general intelligence. It's ridiculous because robots and AIs are just our attempts to make things similar to us, so there's almost no information content in the analogy.

In 📙 Guerrilla Metaphysics, Graham Harman makes a big deal of Metaphor. One point he makes is that you can't make a powerful metaphor out of things that are already comparable.

“The cypress is a conifer” fails as metaphor precisely because the names can be fused together with ease; “the cypress is a flame” succeeds only because they cannot. *

So how about "the human is an extremely sophisticated artificially intelligent robot" as a metaphor? Maybe it has some power; maybe those two concepts can't be fused together with ease. Humans and robots are distinctly fascinating objects, and it's a perennial problem how to distinguish people from automatons.

When a metaphor works, we see the two elements in a new way:

Since the two images are unable actually to melt together instantly by way of their truly minimal common qualities, the cryptic essences that my life senses in them remain before me in a kind of permanent collision. *

Powerful intelligent robots are always menacing. But humans can also be extremely dangerous, and not just in the manner of a bulldog. We can make long-term schemes and use our cleverness to cause truly immense problems.

In 📙 After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre points out that we have a double nature of trying to render the outer world predictable while preserving our own unpredictability.

It is necessary, if life is to be meaningful, for us to be able to engage in long-term projects, and this requires predictability; it is necessary, if life is to be meaningful, for us to be in possession of ourselves and not merely to be the creations of other people’s projects, intentions and desires, and this requires unpredictability. We are thus involved in a world in which we are simultaneously trying to render the rest of society predictable and ourselves unpredictable, to devise generalizations which will capture the behavior of others and to cast our own behavior into forms which will elude the generalizations which others frame. *

We are powerful and dangerous, but in a way that also makes it possible for our benevolence to transform the world.

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