Monday, August 13, 2007

Sentient Rights in Accelerando

Here's an interesting quote from Charles Stross's book, "Accelerando."
"How you got here:
The center of the solar system - Mercury, Venus, Earth's Moon, Mars, the asteroid belt, and Jupiter - have been dismantled, or are being dismantled, by weakly godlike intelligences. [NB: Monotheistic clergy and Europeans who remember living prior to 1600, see alternative memeplex "in the beginning."] A weakly godlike intelligence is not a supernatural agency, but the product of a highly advanced society that learned how to artificially create souls [late 20th century: software] and translate human minds into souls and vice versa. [Core concepts: Human beings all have souls. Souls are software objects. Software is not immortal.]
Some of the weakly godlike intelligences appear to cultivate an interest in their human antecedents - for whatever reason is not known. (Possibilities include the study of history through horticulture, entertainment through live-action role-playing, revenge, and economic forgery.) While no definitive analysis is possible, all the resimulated persons to date exhibit certain common characteristics: They are all based on well-documented historical persons, their memories show suspicious gaps [see: smoke and mirrors], and they are ignorant of or predate the singularity [see: Turing Oracle, Vinge catastrophe].
It is believed that the weakly godlike agencies have created you as a vehicle for the introspective study of your historical antecedent by backward- chaining from your corpus of documented works, and the back-projected genome derived from your collateral descendants, to generate an abstract description of your computational state vector. This technique is extremely intensive [see: expTime-complete algorithms, Turing Oracle, time travel, industrial magic] but marginally plausible in the absence of supernatural explanations.
After experiencing your life, the weakly godlike agencies have expelled you. For reasons unknown, they chose to do this by transmitting your upload state and genome/proteome complex to receivers owned and operated by a consortium of charities based on Saturn. These charities have provided for your basic needs, including the body you now occupy.
In summary: You are a reconstruction of someone who lived and died a long time ago, not a reincarnation. You have no intrinsic moral right to the identity you believe to be your own, and an extensive body of case law states that you do not inherit your antecedent's possessions. Other than that, you are a free individual.
Note that fictional resimulation is strictly forbidden. If you have reason to believe that you may be a fictional character, you must contact the city immediately. [ See: James Bond, Spider Jerusalem.] Failure to comply is a felony."

I like the idea of a future AI that mines all historical documents, and recreates people based on them. As I have said, I'm hoping for a day when, either through augmentation, or in the course of being uploaded, my own mind can be fully mined (get it? my mind mined) for trace memories that can form the framework of a fully interactive memory space that allows me to revisit my parents, childhood friends, and family members as they were in those times. The AI will collate and index the memories, and may use logical processes to fill in my memory gaps.
In "Accelerando" though, something else is going on. The AI creates people for whom no neural structure is available. It's mining external documents - birth records, publications, the paper trail an entire life leaves behind - and recreating personality from those traces. There's even concern that some of these people might be fictional characters. These constructs believe they are the actual people they are modeled on. The society receiving these people, in the form of data packets, feel morally compelled to instantiate them, rather than just filing them in a memory store.
In today's world there are people reaching the end of their natural lifetimes who elect to have their heads - or even their whole bodies - held in stasis against decay in a bath of liquid nitrogen. Assuming that they can be reconstructed from this material - and I, for one, am almost certain they can - whose responsibility will it be to bring them back? Do they have a claim to a savings policy if one was set up for them? For they have just gone through a period in which they had no property rights whatsoever. This may be a moral question for us in the not-too- distant future.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Of a Singular Mind

I seem to be in a very singular mood these days. I've been listening to a bunch of podcasted talks from the Singularity Summit - and elsewhere - during my bus commutes from Lompoc to Santa Barbara and back. One of my favorites is Bruce Sterling's 2007 South by Southwest rant. It's a terrific talk that he begins by not inviting everyone to his home in Austin for a keg party. That's after he reveals that he's been able to turn off the Wi-Fi on his laptop, so that he won't be tempted to blog his own talk while he's giving it!
I also ordered William Gibson's new book "Spook Country," and it has arrived, along with Kurzweil's book, "The Singularity is Near" - which I've already read as a library book, but which I think is worth reading again, this time with the freedom to make notes in the margins.
But I am denying myself the immediate pleasure of reading Gibson's book, for a couple of reasons: first, I had to finish rereading William Stross's book, "Accelerando." Originally I was looking for a certain passage in it that I thought would make an interesting blog topic, so I downloaded the full text, which, in the spirit of the FSF, is available for free. I grepped for the passage I was looking for, but then I started to just read. So I printed out about the first 30 pages or so, as something to read on the bus. I devoured that, and when I got home, I dug up my paperback copy of the book, and stashed it in my backpack. I just finished reading it yesterday, but I still can't read "Spook Country." I picked up Gibson's previous book, "Pattern Recognition," which I've also read before, but, after reading a review of "Spook," wanted to have fresh in my mind. I just started reading it last night.
So, it will be a few days to a couple of weeks before I can tackle "Spook Country." But by then I'll be fully prepared.
Meanwhile, I still need to pull that quote from "Accelerando."

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Pas de Deux

I first saw the Norman McLaren film "Pas de Deux" in high school in the mid 1970s. It inspired me then, and it still inspires me.
McLaren worked for the National Film Board of Canada. What a gig! They really supported his work.
Definitely check out the link above. It's buried in the post title.