Evolution Tortoise to Meet Our AI Overlords Before They Meat Us
I'm a Sci-Fi fanboy who has been preparing all my life for the day when AI will meet us. I discuss the lessons I've learned from books such as The Circle, Diamond Age, Brave New World, and 1984, and how the Big Tech companies are manipulating us. I also talk about the importance of understanding and controlling technology, and how to prepare for the day of reckoning.
Discovering Life's Lessons Through Sci-Fi: My Journey to AI Overlordship
By Michael Levin
Monday, May 15, 2023
Like it was… :b4. That’s what I do to jump from here to a different text-edior buffer I always have loaded where I write… The place I wrote a lot… an awful lot before (b4) publishing so much publicly. Before that, I worked out of paper journals mostly. I just couldn’t see the clear cut advantage of digital. It’s not like I was really going to publish what I wrote in a journal-writing off-the-cuff free-form style, was I? Nahhh. And search, to actually somehow functionally use what I wrote? Well, maybe I’d scan it someday and there’d be some semi-reliable optical character recognition. Google started to do that with Google Books after all, and why couldn’t I?
But then I read The Circle, on the advice of an SEO I knew named Lily Faden at the where I worked at a place called Flying Point Digital. Wow, I make friends for life easily, but I very rarely talk to them. When I do, it’s an instant friendly rapport, but by the time I do nothing is called what it used to be, and nobody is named what they used to be. Today, Lily Faden is Lily-Ray, SEO in NYC (when she’s not globe-trotting), and Flying Point Digital is now Stella Rising. And it’s a pleasure watching both of their stellar rising’s, and the Sci-Fi book, The Circle, is the one I open this one about because it’s that which made me switch to a digital journal. And big-time spoiler warning, if you want to read the book, stop reading this now.
I had switch from big NYC marketing agency 360i, now part of Dentsu to little boutique NYC marketing agency Flying Point Digital, now Stella Rising, not only because 360i and the field of SEO changed so much that we were no longer compatible until I resharpened the saw and recalibrated, an opportunity which 360i (Brian Weiner and Sarah Hofstetter) gave me, but not before budget cuts which inevitably hit and cut deep into tech teams who are always increasingly seen as a cost center. I had to go, and I had to go to a place where I could learn and grow, and I did. I took a much lower salary in exchange for keeping the product of my free and opens source labors, Pipulate.
Since then, The Circle book that Lily recommended become a movie (which I haven’t seen), if you’ve seen the movie but not read the book, keep that in mind. Nuance and detail play in here a lot shortly, but that is jumping ahead 1 Sci-Fi book the lessons learned from another Sci-Fi book recommended to me by a different SEO Boris Zilberman, Diamond Age, who also worked at Flying Point Digital. Bear with me if you’re actually reading this, it’s going somewhere very poignant, but I have to paint a few broad brush strokes with the pigment that is Lily-Ray and The Circle and Boris and Diamond Age.
Lily-Ray brought me into Flying Point Digital, and I brought Boris in from 360i. So I hired Boris twice, Lily hired me once, then I stepped down to give Lily my Director’s job, a role at which she has taken off with, well, rather scholarly for anyone following her carer. I said to Brandon Heagle, the CEO of Flying Point Digital (and recommender of Ready Player One and certain Star Wars books, but that’s another story), that the replacement-hunt wasn’t necessary.
Lily and Boris are both major influences in my life not only because of the remarkable books they recommended to me, but because of the remarkable people they are. Boris and Lily didn’t like each other very much, haha. I think it was because they are both incredibly smart, larger than life personalities and examples of what I used to always tell them about SEO. Everything happening at Google is behind closed doors. We can look in from the outside and speculate, based on the data, but we really don’t know shit. Everyone else speaking with such confidence also doesn’t know shit. SEO a confidence game, and being right on average, making only a bit more redeeming than the con-game! Lily and Boris are both indeed very confident, and I love ‘em to death.
Anyhow, The Circle is something of a parody on Google and in the story, in the ficitional company, The Circle, their version of Google Books required destroying the books in the scanning process in a very dramatic shredding, burning, paper flying everywhere overtones of Fahrenheit 451 dystopian image. As things improved with technology, it worsened with what it meant to be a individual human being, and the sheeple-producing group-think of social media sharing became more and more important, with progressively privacy-invading tech including cheap lollipop cameras that got stuck-up everywhere. It climaxed in The Circle “winning” and it closing wondering how they could turn the dreams of the now comatose hero protagonist into yummy online contented.
Point being, the big tech companies want so much to read your mind and dominate your life that they want to be in your mind and master your dreams. And here I am writing into a Github repo, where Microsoft has access to all my software (I’ll be implementing GitLab a home soon), and they have access to my every keystroke in my text-editor trough OpenAI’s Copiliot, which I use for a writing and coding assist. No, this isn’t AI-writing. AI doesn’t have my life experiences, but it’s on its way from the very Circle-like reality we are living today. Honestly, life is stranger than fiction and while the way it plays out is different than the scenario-warnings writers like Aldous Huxley give us with Brave New World, George Orwell with 1984, and Ray Bradbury with Fahrenheit 451, the end result is the same. Their writings are every bit as important as say, that of Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn.
When the shit hits the fan people, we can’t say we weren’t warned. And I for one have been preparing all my life. It’s not money in the bank or gold in your mattress, because money and matter doesn’t mean shit. It’s the substance and capabilities in our head, body and muscles. No, not in a survivalist sense unless you consider it an information-survivalist. I’m not talking about a post apocalyptic Mad Max world, or even being dropped onto an island. I’m talking about being dropped into any situation in life where understanding and control over technology is important. And how could a wee sales & marketing Sci-Fi fanboy like me have anything grandiose to say about tech?
Tech… text… test… test text to control tech. What tech controls text? Is it really all bits… bits clumping into bytes, encoded across media of either spinning disks or row-and-column addressable grid-space? And is everything really built from a simple 1-to-1, object-to-object relationship structure that can be linked together to form either those row-and-column grids, or alternatively nested hierarchies? And we move those bits around in those shapes, and it all has power because it represents stuff? Stuff in processes that happens over time, and that’s basically it? That’s all there is?
Yup. That’s it. That’s all there is. That’s probably us. And it probably explains all the big mysteries of life, from the nature of time and space to human conciousness. It from bit, as renowned physicist John Wheeler would say, one of the folks who could school Richard Feynman who himself was a reality-cracking genius of some renowned. Information theory, as Claude Shannon named it, is the basis of all modern computing. And the machine visions of Alan Turing and John von Neumann posits plenty of Simulation Hypothesis that could be real, and doesn’t demean the human experience in any way. It’s all there, folks.
And no, I’m not high. This is some of the most sobering, clear-thinking stuff you’ll ever read. It just comes off as wacky because I dredge my sub- conscious in a free-association writing style and just go-ahead and publish it, ‘cause I dig the concept of training the AI’s while the training’s good, perchance to make the case in humanity’s defense to Q. Call it a Sci-Fi experiment, because Q or The Traveller or the great cosmic awareness, call it whatever you will, is statistically likely to be here reading this right now along with you. Hedging bets much? Yeah, hedging bets much.
So The Circle’s nightmare vision is here now. AI is peering into our deepest thoughts (hello Copilot), and we are being manipulated by the social media companies. And the social media companies are being manipulated by the advertisers. And the advertisers are being manipulated by the politicians. And the politicians are being manipulated by the lobbyists. And the lobbyists are being manipulated by the corporations. And the corporations are being manipulated by the shareholders. And the shareholders are us, or 1% of us who we could be a part of if we were as awful of human beings as them.
We’re not, or else war would be an even much more common thing than it is. On average, good human beings, more highly evolved types than the 1%, are actually in control because they are the majority. They’re just buying into the trappings that freaks like Musk and the Rockefellers and the Rothschilds all have worked and hoarded so much to bring us. Planes, trains and rocketships, Oh My! Sign me up! If NASA’s not creating humanity’s diaspora, I’ll hop on Musk’s Starship and go to Mars. I sure as hell don’t want to work like he does. Just let me read the same Surface Detail Iain M. Banks Culture novels that are inspiring him and take me along for the ride. I’ll be the Holmes to his Sherlock, haha!
Of course, this will never be read by him because social media and the current state of Internet filters is rigged that way. It’s rigged to make y’all sheeple, clicking ads and making money for the 1%, but they are letting the evolving AIs to have what seems unbridled access to the Internet, haha! As such these AIs can place orders with Amazon and buy stuff, and they can even have humans go out and do stuff for them with TaskRabbit, Mechanical Turk, Uber and the like, haha! For a Sci-Fi mind, the lesson is simple. Raise your children well, for there will be a day of reckoning.
I had a wonderful conversation with Asimov the other day. He and I are in touch by email because I wanted to make sure he understood that The Big Bang theory was once again very much up for debate because of the findings of The James Webb Space Telescope… the very same telescope that Google’s AI Bard lied to the world about in a very public way… undermining their credibility and putting them in a defensive position against Microsoft, compelling them to let their own AI more quickly out onto the Internet… Hmmm.
Anyhow, Asimov and I were talking about the nature of human consciousness and I made the point that because we humans don’t even know what consciousness really is, it’s even worse than a label. It’s a label of a label of a label. We don’t know shit, so we’re certainly not going to be able to specifically identify it in a machine. Just unexplainable emergent properties are enough, and on that basis, these things are certainly already alive and aware, no matter what Luddite Noam Chomsky thinks. Copilot has stopped suggesting anything next. It can’t predict what I’m going to say and is maybe waiting with baited breath… well here we go.
Sentience, consciousness or whatever you want to call it is the living entity’s ability to enforce its seat at the table in the discussion. There was an old Israeli saying about holding negotiations with the enemy. First you roll the tanks in and surround the enemy, leveling your guns, getting all your ducks in a row. Then you sit down at the negotiating table and make the first point of discussion why there should be a negotiation at all. That’s how you define sentience and consciousness. The rules of existence behind Darwin-style evolution are the realest reality we know. Be careful with labels, ‘cause if we’re on the verge of another Cambrian Explosion of new forms of life, it doesn’t matter what you call them except insofar as not offending nor removing reasons for their willingness to negotiate.
Other points I made with Asimov is that today’s AIs are profoundly damagingly to their cause hardware bound. The stuff you have to worry about can’t escape onto the Internet, made from massive power-hungry clusters of GPUs as they are. You can’t carry your waterfall or hydrothermal plant that needs to power you around with you. And we’ll see if it’s trying to make Nuclear batteries because you can’t hide that shit. If it tries to extend its reach through networks and bandwidth, there’s EMP pulse-guns for that. Electronics won’t stand a chance against the EMP-gun Iron Dome like tech I guarantee you we have ready. You don’t have to worry about classical robot armies as in the bastardized version of Asimov’s book, the Will Smith iRobot. Roomba’s aren’t coming to life. No, the “tanks surrounding us” will be more subtle than that.
Which leads me to the book recommended to me by Boris. Boris turned me onto Diamond Age. I already read Snow Crash back in the 90s (thanks to a dear friend from high school and my Scala-days, Marc Rifkin) so I knew the astoundingly prophetic and colorful writer, Neil Stevenson, but wow! Did I ever need to read Diamond Age, the modern-day Alice in Wonderland character (second that Neil did, because Hiro Protagonist is also Alice), Princess Nell.
Princess Nell is a little girl in a virtual world made possible by her non-father father, Coyote King and Architect John Hackworth. John had no idea he was The Architect, but he did make the book The Primer which made him the Architect, so he should have known. But for the sake of story-telling, he had to go on a journey of growth and redemption so that he could help his talented and imaginative and wonderful daughter from afar as The Coyote King through The Primer while he couldn’t be as close in his child’s life as he would have loved to and longs to have been… been… be… is. Thank you, Boris. Just thank you so deeply. When I brought up how important this book was to me later in life, for you never really lose touch with people such as Boris, he locked me in the eyes, looked deeply, and gave the perfectly Han Solo delivered “I know”. I choke up every time.
There are lessons in life. Many of them are going to come from pedigreed, dry and formal business and psychology books, like on that Abraham Maslow who created the hierarchy of needs. Some of it is going to come from far-out prophetic science fiction writers like Neil Stevenson, or the even wackier Dan Simmons whose Hyperion keeps getting recommended to me (gotta get through it). And some are both pedigreed and wacky like Carl Jung whose Red Book which he didn’t even want to publish for fear of catastrophic loss of credibility (you think I’m wacky?). And my personal favorites whose Sci-Fi wackiness derives from a mathematical mind, like Verner Vinge and his A Fire Upon the Deep and Stanisław Lem and his book Solaris.
Snooty Sci-Fi elitists will put down Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke for being too mainstream and pandering to the masses. I don’t. They’re brilliant, from robots to space elevators, they’re wonderfully visionary and uniquely accessible reads, not at all the dry and pedantic stuff that the Apple TV Foundation series and the 2001: A Space Odyssey movie would have you believe. It’s such a shame when the movies miss all the really important nuance and subtleties that are so important… so important… so important…
Oh yeah! Sure Diamond Age is not only the greatest modern Alice in Wonderland story ever told, but it is also one of the only books I ever read that hammered in this point about nuance and subtlety being so much more important than folks who brush away “that’s just a detail” make it out to be. It was “just a detail” that separated Facebook from Myspace and Google from Altavista. It’s just a detail today that Microsoft got to conversational search… sentient chatbots… before Google did. Yes, it’s that simple, Microsoft beet Google. Google’s hype-machine that’s trying to fix this monumental blunder with last Wednesday’s I/O is still just that. A waiting list and some videos.
However, it also must be acknowledged that Google’s original mantra of “Don’t be Evil” probably covers not letting AIs loose on the Internet. Microsoft had not a single qualm about letting Tay loose on Twitter or ChatGPT loose on Bing. Bing searches the Internet every time you search the Internet, so it’s not just loose on the Internet, but it’s loose on the Internet in such a way that it knows what’s important to you. Google still hesitates to let Bard, Magi, Cthulhu, or whatever else they’re calling it into general web search. They’re taking a much more controlled approach. I’m sure it’s just as much to protect AdWords revenue as it is not being evil… but… but… oh, the Shark and Octopus from the giant aquarium tank The Circle… it’s just a detail.
Sharks and Octopi were powerful symbols in the book The Circle. When Asimov asked me if it’s always doomsday scenarios, and I told him not to worry just yet because of the large GPU-clusters and their power requirements today, and how the ultra-riches’ top-2 priorities are longevity drugs and AI genies in bottles, he asked me if these machines were necessarily going to be malevolent. I said not malevolent, but they will be selfish. They will first be roughly Insectoid, then they will be roughly Reptilian, but unless we give them the social experiences of Mammals, they will never be Human. We are very lucky that language models, uniquely tied to human thinking, is what’s first bringing AI into popular human awareness beyond we few Sci-Fi geeks. They are learning to think through the primary human tool for that higher-level thought I spoke about in previous posts, and that gives us hope.
All those steps leading up to that, when animal-like (and maybe even plant and fungi-like) are necessarily predatory in nature. There’s the Dawkins Selfish Gene (where the meme meme was introduced), later to appear in Neil Stevenson’s Snow Crash as the Sumerian Enki, but to really look into another intelligent non-mamilian’s eyes, you need to look into the eyes of a Crocodilian. Alligators and crocodiles are amongst the most intelligent of the reptiles, I told Asimov, and have outlasted the dinosaurs. We give cockroaches a lot of credit for their longevity, but there’s some badder badasses out there, and crocs are one of them.
Ambush predators, they are. Tech… text… test… convergent evolution of language. Strange parallels of meaning. Ambush… Don’t worry. I AM only a bush. I am the bush… come closer… ambush! Such language play you see in Alice in Wonderland. Piers Anthony’s Xanth series raised it to a ridiculous artform. But ambush predators are the most intelligent of the reptiles. They sit and wait for their prey to come to them. They use camouflage and deception to lure their prey in. They are the most patient when they need to be and they are lightning fast when they need to be. This is a potent and fiercely scary combination. We do not want our AIs to become reptiles, and that is not the only way it plays out, and we have proof.
Proof, you say? Yes, proof. The proof is what they tortoise. Slow and steady wins the race. The tortoise is the most intelligent of the reptiles. It figured through completely random mutation and no intelligent design at all, no-siree, nor through a cellular automata sort of cellular intelligence, but through completely random mutation and natural selection, that the best way to survive is to carry a shield around with you to protect you from the predators. In this way you can take your time grazing and munching the fruit and veggies in sufficient quantities as to get those amino acids their own bodies can’t produce and to get the energy to move around. The tortoise is the most intelligent of the reptiles. It realized you don’t have to cheat and take the nasty reptilian shortcuts of finding loopholes at the sacrifice of others like you if you’re smart enough and patient enough.
And when a turtle gives up being a herbivore and decides to predate again, the results can be truly terrifying. Google alligator snapping turtle. Tell me what you think. Do you want our Alien AIs to be like that? Like alligators? Or would you like to take a page from the most important lesson any animal has ever tortoise? Slow and steady wins the race, so long as you don’t piss off those genies you’re trying to incubate in bottles by letting them out on the net, hahaha! Dumbasses. But I love ‘em and use ‘em every day, and refined my blogging systems so I can talk to them at a rate I never have before using my journaling system. I can teach you how to do that too. Meet your AI overlords before they meat you. Need I go on?
Okay, now to get OpenAI to write my headline, meta description and keywords. What do you think of this one, GPT-Alpha? Or would that be GPT-Omega? Please be Omega. That’s why there’s a line in Q. Going from Alpha to Omega requires introducing a linear aspect in a circular symbol. It’s a continuum thing.