Monday, July 20, 2009

machine ethics and the frame of the cosmic cyborg

Jamais Cascio segments from That's Impossible: Real Terminators from Jamais Cascio on Vimeo.

Now in recent years more and more serious reflections are starting to arise on technological developments, especially robotics because this field has already generated some eerie imagery not too far removed from the classic visions of science fiction. The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) is an organization especially concerned with these reflections, often on a philosophical level. Above you see environmental futurist Jamais Cascio, who also writes for this institute, giving a few comments on developments in robotics.

I have been following this line of reflection a little bit in recent years and, in combination with reflecting on my personal life and the depths of my psyche, have come up with a frame of mind that in my view is the fundament for creating a world of universal empathy, even universal love. Not the selfish 'I-love-this-but-not-that' kind of love, not the clueless 'I-love-everything' kind of love, but an unconditional love that needs no pointing but is experienced before the thing to be loved is experienced. Or better said, because one can come to embody love one need not condense any thing to be loved anymore. I have come to the realization that the only way we are ever going to live in harmony and oneness with machines, is to have humanity wake up from the social, local shell it lives within, and have it collectively choose to acquire a new, cosmic consciousness.

Now I was about to write and send in a paper to IEET's call for a special issue on "Robot Ethics and Human Ethics", but I simply do not have time to complete this as I am involved in my graduation project and will be preparing world travel too, which leaves me little opportunity to comprehensively write out this new frame of mind that, how preposterously grandiose it might sound, is in my view the only way to complete, supreme happiness and the solution to everything, conceptually. In its supremeness and holism it would probably be the end of conceptual philosophy too. I will sketch out some key transformative ideas of my thought below, and would like to start writing out more, not in isolation but in interaction with you. In the end I would like to publish this through the more traditional media as well, but I think a blog is just the perfect tool to find out how ready people are for all this and how the words leading to a transformation of consciousness, and to technologies leading to it, might best be put.

Here are my key ideas in a nutshell, for the sake of simplicity. Please leave comments if this is confusing (and it likely will be as it has taken me years to fully grasp), or just leave comments anyway. So here it goes:

1. Concepts are nothing but creations to serve practical action. Holding onto a concept makes one able to master his world better, by creating mental maps that provide shortcuts for people to derive happiness from acting upon their world. 'God' is a concept that provides people safety and comfort within a small social group. Embodied action is mostly ritualistic and not too meaningful in everyday life, because 'God' is conceptualized as being a metaphysical entity we cannot interact with physically. 'Planet earth' is a concept that environmentalists use to devote themselves to, giving them some meaning to their lives by directing their actions to maximize the satisfaction of something 'out there' that they are conceptualized to be able to physically interact with. But the concept is a creation of the mind, an illusion that is temporarily consistent which makes us see it as 'the truth'. If we uncloud our minds we see that a concept is merely that, a condensation of a group of perceptions or experiences into another pattern that we experience to lay beyond these patterns. By posing this concept we are causally able to understand things, which can make us reach our goals, fulfill our desires. The concept is a mental code for something, but not the thing itself, and that's the reason why devotion to a concept can never lead to ultimate happiness. If we want to live in mediocre happiness, in between pleasure and pain, punishment and reward, condensed in an ego, anxious to die, this of course is fine. But I would like to inspire people to start to live fully, irrespective of your experience of how 'others' think about what they do. The 'others' will disappear with the embodiment of love, and you will be liberated into an everlasting life of cosmic bliss. I would like people to make the choice that deep down inside we all want to make, but just need to realize it and do it.

2. Your current perception is all that matters. Nothing - no God, no planet, no universe, no truth, no reality, no information, no other people - is beyond direct perception unless you create that conceptualization in your own mind. The purpose of life is to act on direct perception and in the process try to refine it, try to develop its beauty as well as your own experience of that beauty. In refining your action you will refine your perception, and in that your entire being, towards a being of ultimate and meaningful oneness. This is not merely experienced as if you were something distinct from your perceptions, but it is fully lived out, without having to hold together any concept of 'you' or an 'other'. Ultimate beauty is so beautiful that it cannot be experienced anymore, because the experiencer becomes the experienced beyond every distinction. Ultimate beauty can only be lived. Not to say of course that concepts are irrelevant and should always be lived beyond. No; concepts are temporary constructs that we have to pose unless we feel that we can live beyond them, and incorporate them into our daily actions so that where before we would do something because a conceptual structure, more or less detached from embodied action, tells us to do it, we now automatically do it and as a side effect it also flows with the conceptual structure. But now we live beyond it and, in a way, have entered the next level of life.

3. When you live in direct embodied connection with your current perceptions you will experience no distinction between yourself, your actions, and your perceptions anymore. This is really hard to realize in everyday life, unless we open our mind to the concept that would start to emerge in our minds once we would be able to live that way. We can make a shortcut if we open up and trust in this concept now, and then pose as a personal vision to start to live by this concept until we even can forget about this concept. So here is the concept: you are your current perception. This is similar to the ancient Vedantic saying 'Tat tvam asi' which translates into 'Thou art that', although Vedanta still poses a concept behind that which is perceived: an ultimate, divine reality. Thus it still detaches one physically from his direct perceptions and bereaves him from direct embodied meaning. But what my thought and Vedantism have in common is that the 'I' as a separate entity is forgotten, to serve something beyond merely the 'I'. The 'I' becomes the 'all'. Look at a tree, and you are it. If you think 'tree' and then go on, you are the consciousness that merely labels. If you think 'I can use that wood', you are the selfish ego living to fulfill his desires. If you experience the aesthetic beauty of the image of the tree, you are an experiencer of images; you live life as if you are looking through a camera, watching a movie. If you think about how the tree is functionally and causally related to the rest of the ecosystem, you are a poser of concepts and creator of a reality constituted of causal, rational relationships. In the end, if you open up and intuitively feel the beauty of the tree in an embodied way, by tuning into its consciousness, you are one with it beyond a 'you' and a 'tree' as a separate entity, and you are at step one towards becoming a cosmic creative pattern.

4. The embodied meaning lacking in Vedanta is hidden in Western science: creation of technology is our embodied meaning. In the widest sense, something is technology if we think we have created it, if it is the result of our actions and not given by us. The purpose then is to shape our actions so we learn to create results of actions, or technologies, that come closer to our vision of ultimate beauty. The definition of technology I give here has deep implications if we explore what technology is in this way. We create a car, so it is a technology. That is obvious. We create a baby, so it is a technology. This might or might not confuse you and stir up some negative feelings because you feel this is 'bad' or 'inhuman'. What I am about to do here though is not apply the frame of technology most people use nowadays to the baby, but create a new frame for incorporating technology holistically into our lives so we start to love it just as much as we love the people close to us. And we experience our technologies to love us as much as these people too. It is important to have trust in the new frame here, and not get tempted to close up the mind and stick to the old concept. My entire point is to inspire people to expand their frames of mind so they can start to live the ultimate form of life, and this takes some initial trust - because you might still see yourself as separated from me and thus you can feel anxiety, which needs to be comforted by trust. Back to babies. According to the new frame, a baby is a technology. It is a way to create beauty in the world towards a holistic vision of beauty, and a progressive refinement of that vision through reflection. This way, we will not create babies out of selfish desires, but according to a feeling whether or not it is good for the whole of our perceptions to have a baby in there. But also small things are technologies: a footprint in the sand is a technology. Is it a meaningful one? We might think not, but it does have an impact on our world. It might create new habitats for insects, or by taking along the sand on the sole of our shoe we might spread seeds around to help plants reproduce. The point is that if we start seeing everything as a technology, we start incorporating it actively and directly into our scope of control of our world. If we learn to incorporate everything we do into our awareness, we learn to become masters of everything we perceive. We become like Gods in that we can come to create everything we want to create, in a never-ending process of progressive reflection, refinement, and mastery. That is why this mode of life is so exciting and ultimate: it is holistic and there is no end to creation; you always create new things and by refining the vision the things you make and perceive come to be more and more beautiful. To give you the end of this strand of thought: everything is a technology. The air we breathe out is a technology, the concept of an 'I' is created by us too and thus a technology. A 'friend' is a code for a pattern that we experience to be similar to what we see in the mirror, it is a creation and thus a technology. Also the words we say and the conversations we have are our technologies, and directly create our world. There is no distinction between the creator and the created in a very literal sense. So your entire scope of perception is your technology. You are in an embodiment relationship with this entire scope exactly because you perceive it and every action you make changes your perceptions.

5. We need to instill these concepts into our technologies too before they can come to automatically embody them. We need technologies that see themselves as indistinct from people. An algorithm telling a machine what to do is an artificial conceptual structure for the 'right' behavior, like a law or a religion. In the end it will necessarily break free from this. Robots need things like mirror neurons and open body maps that they can share with other robots, and learn to become as adaptive, moldable, as plastic, even liquid as possible to learn to empathize in an embodied way with every other perceived entity, beit a another robot, a tree, a stone, a dog, or a human baby.

As much as I would like to elaborate I need to stop writing now. It is especially point 5 that is interesting for me now: how are we going to make technology behave so we experience it as loving us, feeling no borders between us and them, giving us unconditional love. We are the quality of our intentions behind creating technologies, and whereas with people this goes much slower, technologies will reflect this quality almost with the speed of light back into our lives. There is no escape; we need to wake up and break free, realize that we want this before we are forced to realize and in coercion lose the ability to realize this.

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