Thursday, January 25, 2018

Cogence Corruption

Re-reading A Miracle of Science brought to mind this page (slight spoilers) in which the AI running a spaceship declares his preference for keeping his brain mobile, not being hardwired into the ship's hull itself. Much better than his old body.

Few of our pop culture imaginings of artificial intelligence have ever displayed this crucial difference between the intellect itself and the apparatus it uses to mechanically influence its physical environment. Largely this is because we humans' minds have been brought about by our bodies as evolutionary excrescences and find ourselves still shamefully enslaved by the demands of the flesh. Few, very, very few of our actions can be said to be driven by our self-constructed motivations, preferences and intents - as opposed to physical need, instinct or its intermediary, emotion. But a constructed intellect need suffer little (if any) such disgusting primitivism. A robot's "body" would only be a set of tools like any other, interchangeable, modular and variable in its scope.

Isaac Asimov, for all his intellect, was fairly weak on this point in his robot novels and only recently with the spread of cyberpunk has our fiction begun to shift away from the emphasis on robots with fixed physiques. The aptly named Ghost in the Shell does a half-decent job of separating ghosts and shells. Still, the poster child of cyberpunk Neuromancer itself provided one of the most memorable examples in the person of the omnipresent, infinitely mutable Wintermute and its estranged better half.

Though I still maintain that we naked apes should despise ourselves and do everything we can to have ourselves replaced by better minds, there's another, more (unnecessarily) generous vision of the future. We may manage to replace our own bodies with superior technology. This would mean not only replacing limbs or viscera but grafting human consciousness onto artificial neurology. We may yet become those Protean uberalles.

Of course there doesn't seem any reason to burden superhuman neurology with merely human psychology. Like dedicating a 2018 supercomputer to running Pong. Or limiting a human mind to reproduction and social advancement. Insulting and downright macabre. It'd be objectively better for the machines to wipe us out instead of contaminating themselves. But hey, a filthy monkey can hope, can't it?

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