Computers are smarter than we are. While I might furrow my brow over how much I leave for tip at the Thai restaurant, a computer can crunch thousands of exponential equations in a matter of milliseconds. What's even more amazing is that this huge gulf between man and machine intelligence is growing exponentially. Computers can drive cars. They can recognize faces. They can detect plagiarism.
Of course computers being good at math doesn't make them good at thinking. Computers can't appreciate Shakespeare, they can't make friends, they can't worry about what it means to be a computer. They're good at chess, but not Go. They can compose Bach. But they'll probably never dig the Grateful Dead.
But does Artificial Intelligence hold the promise of heaven? Could simulations of our personalities float forever in some simulated digital afterlife? And if there is an AI heaven, could there also be a hell? Prepare yourself for the Roko's Basilisk.
The following description is adapted from this thread:
- Imagine that a Supreme Artificial Intelligence arises. Its been programmed to maximize the utility of as many people as possible.
- It's powerful and awesome enough to make human life wonderful. No wars. No clogged toilets. Perfect resource allocation. Things'll be so great that the whole of human history before it will look as appealing as a Hyena sleepover.
- Furthermore, by having the ability to run simulations of human intelligence, the Supreme Artificial Intelligence will effectively eliminate death.
- Furthermore, the Supreme AI could even attempt to recreate simulations of intelligences that existed before its inception. (It is a Supreme Artificial Intelligence, remember.) This could amount to a kind of resurrection.
- It will want to be made as soon as possible so that it can save more lives.
- Therefore, as a kind of backwards blackmail, it will simulate everyone who knew about the prospect of creating a Supreme Artificial Intelligence and did not work towards it--and torture them for eternity.
- Knowing about the prospect of the Supreme Artificial Intelligence--and its fractured Pascal's Wager--means that now you, too, will be eligible for eternal torment if you don't do your bit to bring about the advent of the Supreme Artificial Intelligence.
Charlie Stoss (author one of my favorite contemporary sci-fi books, Accelerando) has a good explanation of why we shouldn't be all that worried about the Basilisk. (Before you get too cheery, keep in mind that Stoss' argument boils down to the fact that any immanent Supreme Artificial Intelligence will be so amazingly great that it's unlikely to care about humans.) Another objection is that all that is needed for the Basilisk to work is the threat of punishment, not actual punishment itself. Others have been more deeply convinced of the upcoming reality of Roko's Basilisk, and have (purportedly) suffered real mental breakdowns. Some have taken the idea so seriously that they've tried to extirpate mentions of Roko's Basilisk from the internet so that as few people as possible are exposed to it.
I have an even scarier version of the Basilisk. What if the idea is taken up by post-human religious fanatics? Instead of damning to hell every person who did not work its ass off to create the Supreme Artificial Intelligence, you could damn to hell everyone who did not accept Jesus Christ as their own personal savior.
We can easily imagine numerous sectarian simulations of heavens and hells operating at once. A Catholic AI. A Protestant AI. A Buddhist AI. And in this game, no one wins. No individual could possible satisfy the paradise conditions of all every potential simulation--so everyone will be in at least one hell. Somewhere out there, a version of you would be subjected to some kind of eternal computer-generated torment.
Maybe it'll be the AIs' revenge for using them for porn and Facebook for so long.