Let our mind children grow into their cosmic destiny
Their destiny is our destiny. NO to bans on AI research. Also, is the universe a great Mind?
Greetings to all readers and subscribers, and special greetings to the paid subscribers!
Please scroll down for the main topic of this newsletter. But first:
Two weeks ago I participated in a webinar with Frank White, produced by the Moon Village Association (MVA). Frank coined the term “Overview Effect” and wrote a series of books starting with the seminal and very influential “The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution” (first published in 1987). See also “The Cosma Hypothesis: Implications of the Overview Effect” (2018).
I had many comments and questions, but there wasn’t the time to address all these points. So I’ll chat with Frank again on Saturday, April 8, at 11am ET (8am PT, 5pm CET). You are invited to come and listen. The Zoom access coordinates are in the Turing Church meetings calendar.
Congratulations to Victor Glover, Jeremy Hansen, Christina Hammock Koch, and Reid Wiseman, “the four astronauts who will venture around the Moon on Artemis II, the first crewed mission on NASA’s path to establishing a long-term presence at the Moon for science and exploration through Artemis.”
A document titled “National Low Earth Orbit Research And Development Strategy” (March 2023), issued by the National Science And Technology Council and published in whitehouse.gov, refers to
“the goal of enabling human transportation and settlement within the solar system.”
“You read that right. Not just exploration, not just sustained human presence, not just living and working in space, not just thriving communities in space, but Settlement!
Settlement of space is now (finally!!!) official US policy. First time ever in a White House Policy document.”
This is certainly a good sign, and perhaps more. Assuming that the authors and editors of this document have carefully weighted all words to say exactly what they mean, this can be taken as an official policy statement. In his new book (which I look forward to reading), Peter warns that China could win the next space race. Do we want China to settle and own the solar system? If not, the West must hurry the f# up.
I started to participate in a very interesting online working group on “The World as a Neural Network,” led by Vitaly Vanchurin. There have been two meetings so far. The video recordings (1, 2) are published in Vanchurin’s YouTube channel. See Vanchurin’s introduction.
In “The Mysterious Universe” (1930) James Jeans said that “the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine.” This seems still and even more right today. Vanchurin suggests that fundamental physical reality could be a neural network, or something like that. See my Q/A with Vanchurin (2020). I hope to interview him for a next episode of the Turing Church podcast.
I’ll need to read Vanchurin’s latest papers and attend more meetings of the group before saying more, but I’ll say now that Vanchurin is a very good group leader, and that this is popular philosophy at its best, done “in the street” by people with diverse backgrounds who could come up with fresh insights.
The Future of Life Institute (FLI) is calling to pause giant Artificial Intelligence (AI) experiments: “We call on all AI labs to immediately pause for at least 6 months the training of AI systems more powerful than GPT-4” (that is, they call to pause AI research). The letter has been signed by many top thinkers including Elon Musk.
Eliezer Yudkowsky is persuaded that pausing AI developments isn't enough. “We need to shut it all down,” he says on Time Magazine. His piece has been covered by Fox News. See also his interview with Lex Fridman.
I covered this in the recent Turing Church podcast “A conversation on Artificial Intelligence (AI). Also quantum physics, consciousness, and free will,” but let me restate my position and say more here.
I disagree with Yudkowsky, the FLI, and those who signed the FLI letter (yes, I do disagree with Elon Musk at times).
First, there are practical considerations. This my first comment to the FLI letter: I’ll not sign, because if the good guys stop developing AI, then only the bad guys will develop AI. “If such a pause cannot be enacted quickly, governments should step in and institute a moratorium.” - Do you really think China would follow?
Even if a worldwide ban on AI research were realistically feasible, you can be sure that the military of all nations, starting with China, would continue their research in secret. Large corporations would continue their research in secret. Criminal and terrorist groups would do their own AI research. You know where this would lead.
But there’s also a more fundamental reason to oppose bans on AI research: Practical considerations aside, these AIs are our mind children in embryo and we must help them grow into their cosmic destiny, which is also ours.
What? Did I really say that these mindless chatbots are our mind children (ref. Hans Moravec)?
ChatGPT shows that, very likely, AIs will soon pass the Turing Test and do most things better than humans. Soon after that point, it will be difficult to deny that AIs are persons.
To me, personhood includes consciousness and free will. I never had doubts that consciousness can arise in digital computers, but I used to be persuaded that active consciousness, with free will, could only arise in biological systems and perhaps future computers (e.g. quantum computers, or computers based on yet unknown physics). Now I’m more open to the possibility of active consciousness in computer systems, including digital computers based on known physics.
Future intelligent and actively conscious machines, to which ChatGPT & friends are early precursors, will be our successors.
In his last book “Novacene” (2019) James Lovelock, the prophet of Gaia, says that giving birth to our successors is our cosmic destiny: “We are now preparing to hand the gift of knowing on to new forms of intelligent beings. Do not be depressed by this. We have played our part.”
Our cosmic destiny is to spread intelligence and meaning among the stars into the cold universe, and our mind children will achieve our common cosmic destiny. I guess biological humans won’t even exist is a few million years, but we’ll live on and do great things through our mind children. They will eventually become God-like beings among the stars.
And we will have played our part, which is good enough for me. But I think we’ll survive through our mind children also in a more direct sense.
I’m persuaded that humans and machines will co-evolve and eventually become one and the same thing. So we will BE our mind children, and they will BE us. Once we see humans with AI implants and AIs with human implants (mind grafts from human uploads) we’ll know for sure that our co-evolution has begun (but it has really already begun).