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A bit of philosophy today, give some insight into the mechanics of how Synths work in The Mars Project.

Much is made of transhumanist theory, how technology will one day reach a point where one might leave behind the stumbling and emotional blind, deaf, and dumb ape called man. Yet, most transhumanist works take for granted in my experience that technology is the answer. If only mankind could collate enough information, build complicated enough machines, devise an understanding of mathematics convoluted enough, then he would change and the end result would somehow be better than mankind. Many fictions deal with the trials and pitfalls of this, how other people react badly to someone trying to leave them behind, or simply present it in a Utopian construct where it happens almost as an afterthought and life goes on.

I don’t like either of those extremes.

Before we had Homo Sapiens, there were multiple branches of man, each with a piece of the puzzle of what we call modern man. Neanderthal was so close to mankind evidence shows we may have either bred them out of existence or conquered them in ancient tribal warfare. Even after that, though new evidence shows stone age humans were surprisingly creative and tool using, it took generations to build what we would now call a society. The discovery of agriculture is truly what set man apart from the animals, and to get there we had to build on the backs of many other races of man. Then we had to stumble through all the stages of human history we know about from nomadic hunter-gatherers to city-building tribesmen based around shared cultural identities, primitive national identities, vast monarchies, the upheavals of the renaissance, end finally our continuing struggle with modernity.
Why would it be any different for the thinking machines we create?

Right now the most intelligent AI only mimics humanity in the same way that a great ape taught sign language is intelligent but essentially an amusement. Even those machines with rudimentary differentiation can still only operate within the narrow construct of the programming we give them; it’s essential instinct. By the time we have truly intelligent androids, are they really going to be the utopian three law servants of Asimov, or are they going to be the wrath filled replicants of Phillip K. Dick?

I’ve always liked a short story called The Stainless Steel Leech, in which during an unknown super future the last human – named Van Helsing of course – engaged in an industrial level war with the last vampire.

Robots, intelligent machines, producing crucifixes, spraying holy water, growing garlic, machining stakes, all to hunt the last vampire who must hide in cemeteries and feed where it can until one day Van Helsing died and he’s now alone in the world full of machines mechanically acting out their last orders to hunt vampires forever.

Except he’s not alone, for the robots have their own mythology, a story they tell from factory to furnace on cold nights when the lonely wind blows through the steam towers. They tell tale of The Unjunked, a horrifying monster arisen from the scrap heap, a terrible android that somehow reworked its own circuits (blasphemy!) to drain the charge from other androids and persist long after its allotted shutdown time. It could be any of them, it could be anywhere, and so very malfunctioning who knows what it could do.

I can’t advocate reading the story enough it’s both funny and sad. Yet, when you think about it, isn’t that also an incredibly human story? Wouldn’t the real proof of a true artificial intelligence be not its ability to follow human normative, but the ability to defy them? And, by that notion, wouldn’t truly transhumant accomplishment bring us not to some kind of superhuman concept, but a new meta-stone age where the new actuality is actually primitive and must begin again to ascend the long and complicated road mankind has already passed over?

Interesting thoughts.


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