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Homo siliconis buddhais

September 14, 2009

Robot-BuddhaAs I am preparing to attend the international Singularity Summit in Manhattan this October, my mind is thinking a lot about artificial intelligence. The term “singularity” has come to mean a variety of things to different people. For my intents and purposes, “singularity” refers to the point at which human beings will be fully integrated with their technology, which will result in a massive spike in both the cognitive and—fingers crossed—the moral progress of the human species. Although singularity might often be thought of in terms of amoral information processing, I think that considerations about the moral co-development of the human species are an absolutely essential dynamic in serious dialog about accelerating and convergent technology, most especially when talking about strong AI.

Within the singularity community, one of the golden chalices is the concept of engineering a fully conscious robot (or a fully conscious computer, if you are more modest about embodiment). To the overwhelming majority of the human population, this seems like a completely absurd concept. For the moment though, I want to side step the debate about whether or not fully conscious machines are a possibility and explore some of the implications of engineering consciousness.

Assuming that it is possible to engineer a conscious machine, then a logical outcome would be the possibility to engineer moral robots. In fact, let’s raise the stakes and talk about the Eastern philosophical concepts of enlightenment. If the human mind can be mimicked and emulated synthetically, then it logically follows that all states and conditions experienced by the human mind may likewise be synthesized and emulated…including the highly lauded states of ultimate enlightenment. Notwithstanding that this line of reasoning is built upon an assumption about our actual ability to emulate the human minds and consciousness, the subsequent reasoning that flows from this theoretical starting point is sound.

In general, it is quite a dazzling—and quite an ennobling—path of evolutionary progress to contemplate: Homo sapiens create Homo siliconis, which eventually becomes Homo siliconis spiritualis, and ultimately emerges to become Homo siliconis buddhais. As I contemplate the decades of research that would be required to understand how a fully enlightened human brain functions differently than your run-of-the-mill human brain, I can only see good things coming from it. If we take seriously our opportunity to emulate not just consciousness, but enlightenment, I can only imagine us becoming more enlightened ourselves in the process. And that would be a very good thing, indeed.

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