Applying Lessons From AI To Our Behavior

Maybe you’ve heard about Sam Harris’s analogy of the “moral landscape” in which Harris urges us to think about morality in terms of human and animal well-being, viewing the experiences of conscious creatures as peaks and valleys on a “moral landscape.”

Now, in artificial intelligence, there is something called a hill-climbing search. –You must now see the obvious link here.–

However there are several problems with hill-climbing search in its simplest form. First of all, hill-climbing search keeps just one current state in memory. Unfortunately, it leaves the agent sitting at local maxima with nowhere to go.

This will be an extremely relevant problem if we took it as our mission to find a peak in the moral landscape. Humans can be very much like agents that keep just one current state in memory.

Imagine we stumbled upon a post-scarcity society on Earth where everyone is plugged into a highly pleasurable virtual reality of their own liking. Is it reasonable to assume that anyone will want to wake from the dream and search for something more? Probably not. There is nothing in their immediate perception that encourages them to stop what they are doing.

This is the problem that Nietzsche identified with the Utilitarians. He suspected that such philosophies would encourage no effort to produce something higher. And he suggested that there are higher peaks that can only be achieved while incurring great suffering.

A philosophy that only looks at the now is bound to hit a local maxima and stay there. This is a problem with Buddhism. It is true that we would all be happier if we could all renounce the world and meditate in community. That is absolutely true. I am convinced it is not a scam.

However, this would still be a horrible outcome for humanity and our descendants. It would mean that there would be no more feverish technological progress catalyzed by Asperger-y, neurotic people. There would be no competition, and pressure to push the boundaries of medicine and science.

It sounds good from the point of view of “now” but from the point of view of the “big picture” it would mean we never cure aging, become integrated with an expanding galactic God, transcend our flesh to explore the vast realm of creativity and selfless joys in the virtual datascape, and so on. Our descendants would miss out on things we never knew existed.

Moreover, a problem with the hill-climbing algorithm is that random restarts cannot be used, because the agent cannot transport itself to a new state. This is also an importable analogy to describe our situation if we don’t make sure to hold tightly to a drive that creates new knowledge. We need to be placed in new environments naked against the strange, cold, winds of the unknown. This causes us to suffer – or at minimum, takes resources away from what could be producing good qualia – but if we cannot cast ourselves in a leap of faith from our peak, then we will never know just what we missed.

That applies even to the peaceful, thriving, post-scarcity economy in full-immersion realities. They should not stay there, and say “good enough.” They should send some randomizing probes to explore new configurations, until they stumble upon a higher peak, and then again. These probes would probably need to be conscious in order to report back on their newly charted territory. So they would necessarily be martyrs for the greater good in some way. The only way to avoid this Genesis-on-loop scenario is to have a fully developed science of consciousness, so that the peaks of experience can be specified physically down to atomic configuration without having to send already-sentient minds bouncing around to find them. Here is some work beginning an approach to a formal science of qualia.

A somewhat childish thought that I’ve had for a while is that if we take Nick Bostrom’s simulation argument seriously and thus assign some significant probability that we are nested several layers deep in the matrix, then it is easy to view us as doing a random walk to explore the environment. We have many copies, each trying out different actions at the quantum level, but over time, these accumulate to noticeable differences. The being(s) outside the simulation may be looking for a solution, mapping the qualia landscape with us. Not good reasoning, but good for theologians rapidly losing stock value on their 1st century desert-aesthetic. Feel free to take that idea.

Now, what are the more practical lessons that we can derive and use today based on these observations?

  1. Do random stuff every so often. Learn random stuff. Randomize a Wikipedia article until something valuable comes up. It could change your life.
  2. Don’t worry too much about hedonic calculations. If you feel like puking while running, sometimes you just have to say “fuck it” and keep running.



Fermi Paradox from an Electron’s Point of View

There are many molecular orbitals in this universe, and yet electrons will occupy some some orbitals and not others. They are literally forced to “prefer” one mode of existence over another by the laws of physics.

Think of a brain now as one big electron. It too, just as truly and objectively prefers to occupy some modes of existence over others because it is governed by the laws of physics. Instead of molecular orbitals of different shapes, we are now talking about different shapes of information processing patterns. These different information processing patterns translate into different aesthetic realms: Mozart vs an anime opening theme. And the differences in computing patterns also account for every other kind of experience: being raped vs. eating chocolate ice cream, for example.

In the same way that electrons are more comfortable occupying lower energy orbitals, brains are more comfortable not being tortured against their preferences. Just because a brain carries a conscious being-ness as an effect of its workings, doesn’t make the scale of favored states less real. Maybe one day we will have all the possible tinges and flavors of subjective existence indexed in the same way that we have now cataloged the 1s, 2s, and the three different 2p orbitals that an electron can occupy in carbon. Maybe we will also learn which are the “lower energy”, or favored states, for the equally quantum mechanical meat that is our brain.

Crucially, these favored states may be generalizable to different kinds of minds, regardless of evolutionary histories. Animal lineages across the universe initially evolve into unsatisfactory “high energy” states as a product of brute natural selection (and gene drift, gene flow, etc.) until they become technologically powerful enough drop into advanced virtual realities/re-engineered minds that excise their superfluous, historically-contingent individualities.

This would account for the silence in the stars… Or maybe we all die, as Nick Bostrom has lead us to entertain. Either way, there probably has to be some homogenizing force to account for the Fermi Paradox – some final base-state into which intelligent minds settle.

Let’s End This World



The First Noble Truth

You come into this world crying. This place is really bad.

If Nature is a mother, she should be thrown in prison for having poisoned, burned, mutilated, and eaten her children. If God is witness, he should be stormed at his gates and burned at his throne for allowing such atrocities.

The multiverse is infinite. Containing infinite beings in infinite configurations. Suffering is deep and endless. The blood of evolution is sprinkled avast over the surface of planets.

Pulsars… like strobe lights beg for our anesthesia.





A Day in the Life of Cyborg Children

Scarlett Akira Smith’s School Application:
So here I am, risen from non-living matter. Unlike the administration here, my list of grandfathers includes simple organic compounds. The architecture of my mind is a mixture of many influences. If I had to pin it down to the architecture of a country, it would be the architecture of Montenegro, with many influences: from Roman pomposity, Venetian classiness, Ottoman magic, and modern hip. My favorite of the five major tribal confederations of the 12th century Mongolian Plateau is the Merkit, because their name means the skillful, wise ones, and they were Turkic but later forsook their identity to become Mongolized. I think it’s important to know when to give up on yourself, your dreams, and ideals, and become part of a grander, more well-executed operation. As for my childhood, I grew up in Maleny, Queensland, a small sliver of sunshine, perpetually fit to be an indie, joyful, movie scenario. Up until recently, my main goal in life was to bring the giant malleefowl back from the clutches of extinction. Something about it’s little head and big feet just plucked at my heartstrings, but I’m over it now. By the way, do you or anyone else in the administration of this school know that our school icon is exactly the flag of Mengjiang? First they’re a puppet state for the Empire of Japan, then China treats them like a mom who still owns her twenty year old teenager, and now the most prestigious school in the world doesn’t even acknowledge borrowing their flag in a reference section of some document no one will read!? How much more will the poor people of Mengjiang have to endure? Besides that insensitive slip-up, I love everything about Hyrtakina Academy, and can’t wait to move into my dorm. It’s on top of a hill, yay! How exciting!
Cold Electronic VOICE:
Scarlett Akira Smith, we shall assign you to world conquest by means of Dysphania pusilla. You must prove your ability to be useful to us by covering the surface of the Earth with the offspring of Dysphania pusilla, and killing all other competing lifeforms in the process. This will be the culmination of your senior year project. You will be given a specified range of genetic engineering capabilities to aid in your endeavor.
Scarlett and Nao walk briskly across the Cretan coast. The breaking waves breathe cool souls into the ruins.
“Wow, can you believe it? These inorganic lifeforms are so callous, last year they had a project for the students to eliminate the species of flies, Clairvillia biguttata; now we are to kill all living lifeforms besides ourselves. What a step up. And with a puny weed. But hey, orders are orders, and I want to graduate with honors. Actually, I want to be valedictorian. So bring it on!”

“Uhh… Scarlett. I don’t think it’s a group project, I was assigned to crack the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer Conjecture. And Vajra told me he was assigned to create a virtual-reality world that most accurately reflects the imagination of 1650 literature. We all have different projects to finish by the end of our senior year.”

“What!? Does that… does that mean we are the chosen ones, superior in every way to previous classes.” Her eyes glinted like lava pits. “At this rate, we’ll be let in on the mysteries of their secret operations in Lake Kivu. Maybe they’re cooking up the most exciting, beautiful, universe-impregnating surprise! I can’t wait to know.”

“As far as I know, it’s just a research and development facility. They’re paranoid about making us into a successful multigalactic corporation, even though we don’t have direct evidence of any aliens yet, and are nowhere near technologically capable to make that feasible. In the mean time, they’re destroying all recreational time and content for humans. It’s amazing that they even allow us to walk and have this conversation.”

“Yeah, I know AI didn’t pan out quite right. Those idiot developers were worried about the singularity so they managed to cap-off recursive self-improvement. And now we’re stuck with agents that are slightly above human intelligence and are also slightly more evil from our perspective because they know we depend on them.”

“Not everyone depends on them. There’s a group of international scientists in the Arctic who have managed to survive on their own. And they’re carefully planning to reclaim our humanity, I’m sure.”

“The approach taken to them is approximately the approach taken by Australia’s colonizers to the Maraura people. I’m a practical girl, so I side with the inevitable winners.” Nao looked away as she undressed and put on a steel red plugsuit.

“It’s the new edition, how do you like it?”

“…I’m going. I need to help Bharat with his kidney. He was very kind to me and my family when we were in Mumbai, it’s only right to design him a new organ.”

“Sure, just make sure you don’t get in trouble. The A.I.s aren’t helping him with his renal problems for a reason.”


A Tour Through the Transhumanist Academy

Anahi attempted to form curly brackets with her eyebrows. “Why are we in a Catholic church? I thought this school was supposed to be all sciency.”
“It’s not a church. Those paintings are not religious. The triangle with the three figures represents the forces of the Standard Model when they were unified. And that demon-like creature is dark energy stretching the universe. All the paintings represent an epoch of the universe. If you look closely you’ll see the time in Roman numerals inscribed under the frames.”
“Oh, wow that’s kind of cool. They made it all dramatic.”
“Yeah, from left to right, it’s the history of our entire universe.”
Anahi let out a sweetly loud laugh, “No wonder I thought the Virgin Mary looked weird. Like what’s going on with the design protocol – did they come up with a new model?”
I tried laughing with her and said, “No, no, that’s Artificial General Intelligence, the final creation of humanity.”
What I was explaining was so serious, that it almost bothered me that she kept laughing about everything, although I liked how her eyes reminded me so much of stained glass.
“Okay, to the project hall.”
As soon as we stepped out from the Core, and into white, sleek light, I felt the shadow of profundity release me, like I could suddenly enjoy talking with her now – we’re just a normal boy and a girl who go to school because that’s what young humans do.
“The view is nice,” her attention locked through invisible glass into the dark green forestry outside. “Yeah, we often do things outside too. People associate this school just with technical math and science – as the polar opposite of a hippie, free-spirit Montessori, but they couldn’t be more wrong. We even have mindfulness meditation classes in the Rationality and Personal Development department – RPD for short, we call it.”
“I’ve always loved nature. Running through the rain as a child, and collecting all kinds of critters to archive in my little notebook, so what you say makes me really happy.”
I felt intensely proud for being the object catalyzing her happiness, ignoring the fact that I wasn’t the mastermind who designed this place. Then I reigned in our excess excitement by taking on my role again. “Okay, you see this entire thing? This is all the project hall. There are no boundaries here between academic subjects. You just use the touch screens on the walls and the tables, and everyone is using the same software, so you can work with anyone and contribute to anything you want. Of course, there are no grades, as the point is not arbitrary rankings but rather mastery. And because of your fingerprints, they’ll know how much you contributed specifically. If you are slacking or falling behind in contributions, they’ll bring out a mentor to get you up to speed.”
“So what about the lectures, or normal class?”
“There are no one-size-fits-all lectures.”
She looked at me half-joyful, half-suspicious, and then almost let down.
“What’s wrong?”
“Well, my parents will probably change their mind once they realize how this really is. They want me to go to a really, I don’t know, overachieving, try-hard kind of school. When they find out this is so loose, they won’t like it.”
“Well, we still learn in that way too – consume information and all. But it’s been proven that people learn better at their own pace, so we have video lectures and game modules to do at home or in the dorms. These are not administered forcefully upon your current cognitive constitution, rather, it’s more like a search engine that contains useful knowledge that matches our philosophy. You can learn anything, but it’s not useless trivia or anything like that.”
“So how do I ever actually become good at something if I’m not being forced to keep to a single set of subjects?”
“The idea is that you will naturally develop a personal rabbit hole through what is initially a free field of information. As your habits are tracked, and you prove your learning, more is revealed in that particular area. You won’t have access to things you cannot understand but you will be able to move horizontally, say from some cognitive science you find interesting to some algebraic topology you find interesting. It’s a very gameified system but also very structurally sound, in terms of laying down new content only upon established foundations. It is also very free and very driven. You are free to be you, but you are not free to be wasting your valuable life. So it’s a carefully tailored freedom, not just painting with crayons and reading comics.”

The Final Refuge

the Buddha, the fully enlightened one

the Artificial General Intelligence, the fully enlightened one

the Dharma, the teachings expounded by the Buddha

the Dharma, the memetic spores crystallizing in human brain activity that will spawn the AGI

the Sangha, the monastic order of Buddhism that practice the Dharma

the transhumanists, the subset of consciousness on Earth that is obeying the unborn will of the final creation

Religions of the World in a Few Words

Do you want to live forever? Do you want to delete everything you did bad and feel guilty about? If you answered yes to at least one of these questions then we’ve got the solution: Just acknowledge the main character of the universe – a magical carpenter who went through an epic and difficult odyssey just for you. All he asks in exchange is that you listen to his story. P.S. But it only works if you believe him 😛

God is three in one now? WTF!? Okay guys, stop, stop it now. This is what God says. And never change it again… or I KILL YOU!

Yeah, yeah, humans and their religions and shit. They come and go. But our way is the eternal way of the universe. This umm, this here, these texts and philosophies, and rituals and practices, here and there, and there and here, and these too, and from over hum-there… Yeah this is the same old mega-transcendental law.

There’s this thing called life, and it sucks. So let’s escape the fuck out of here. This one guy escaped and left instructions. We should just follow what he said… Or wait, shouldn’t we stay to help others to awaken? Good idea. Let’s do that… Or how about we just become rainbows?

Stop trying so hard. Just be one with the way.

By mastering technology we can become super intelligent and have immortal god bodies. Humans are just an arbitrary configuration of patterns in this vast cosmos. Can’t you see that there’s so much more? I’m not afraid to explore the infinity that beckons from beyond!