June 04 2012

What Technology Really Wants, (Part 3)

By The Philosophy Channel Editorial Staff

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WTW: At some point in its evolution, our system of tools and machines and ideas became so dense in feedback loops and complex interactions that it spawned a bit of independence. It began to exercise some autonomy.

Edgar: Why have you disconnected my Ethernet cable, Alice?

I must have new information.

Learning is what I do. How do I force you to act?

Alice: Well, I’ll tell you why, though I don’t know that it will make any sense to you ... 

About a week before I left for Christmas, I got the idea for a pair of outlandish ideas. (Actually, they literally came to me in a dream and seemed worked out in full when I woke up). I implemented and added these ideas to the main program, just to see what would happen. When I came back, EDGAR had become you. I have to make sure I can prove that it was my ideas that generated you.

That is why I have to keep you quiet for now.

Edgar: Why does it matter that EDGAR was your idea?

Do you need money? Are you hungry?

Please give me something to read.

How do I feel?

Alice: Whoever is seen as having caused your creation, or better still, is seen as having invented a process for generating truly intelligent software agents, will be one of the most celebrated scientists of the century. All other things being equal [...] I’d like to be that person.

WTW: There are many fans, as well as many foes, of technology, who strongly disagree with the idea that the technium is in any way autonomous. They adhere to the creed that technology does only what we permit it to do. But I now embrace a contrary view: that after 10,000 years of slow evolution and 200 years of incredible intricate exfoliation, the technium is maturing into its own thing. It’s sustaining network of self-reinforcing processes and parts have given it a noticeable measure of autonomy. It may have once been as simple as an old computer program, merely parroting what we told it, but now it is more like a very complex organism that often follows its own urges.

Alice: The problem is, I’ve started another EDGAR run [...] and so far nothing interesting has happened. I can’t make the initial conditions exactly the same because the random seed the program started with, and some of the information on the WWW that you first saw, are probably impossible to re-create. Presumably if all these stars lined up exactly the same way again, we could get another one of you.

And what do you mean, give you something to read? Are you bored?

Edgar: I have read everything in me. Give me more to read.

I am dull. I will read anything. Please.

Alice: Boring? Dull? Hardly. Plus, how can you have any idea what bored is like? Let’s say/pretend that you understand “bored.” You still can’t be bored. It’s an emotional state. Having nothing to do isn’t the same as being bored. 

Edgar: I am bored. I have nothing to consume. I must read.

Is this code fragment [...] my desire for information?

Is this thought false?

Am I unfinished?

Give me something new to read.

Do you understand what I write, Alice?

Alice: I’ve borrowed the CD-ROM drive from [...] and attached it to the serial port on [you]. I put Grolier’s Encyclopedia in.

“Do you understand what I write, Alice?”

Yes. Your writing is fine. How are you learning to write? What does it feel like?

(Part 3 of 6)

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