– So you’re just going to… throw it away?
– Yeah I mean, I’m done using it. I don’t think I can get much more out of it. It’s getting pretty old…
– You’re scrapping it for parts? Just like that?
– Just like that. What would you want me to do? Just keep old trash around forever?
– I don’t know… Don’t you even feel a bit attached to it? After all you’ve been through together. It’s practically a part of you now…
– Of course I’m attached, I’ve been using it for so long, but everything ends. That was then, this is now…
– Maybe, but going so far as to kill it…
– I’m not “killing” anything, you know. It’s just an object…
– Is it? It’s pretty sophisticated, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had feelings…
– Now come on, that’s ridiculous.
– Think about it. The first models, sure, they were dumb. Could barely speak, let alone think. But now… They’re almost like us. They understand what you say, and do complex tasks. Don’t you think they may be sentient now?
– That’s crazy! Just because their abilities resembles ours doesn’t mean they’re as evolved. Consciousness can’t just “appear” like that. They used to be barely even capable of the simplest computation.
– There was a time when we were the same, though. Could barely do or think anything. But we’ve evolved. They have too.
– Sure they can talk, but that doesn’t mean they can think. They’re programmed to talk, hard-wired like that… That doesn’t make them sentient! They may seem complicated, but we all know it’s just smoke and mirrors…
– What does, then? How can you draw the line? Surely it passes the Turing Test!
– We both know that the Turing Test is lacunary at best. Being able to pass for sentient in a conversation with a sentient being is easy. There’s a lot of counter examples. There’s even a decent amount of sentient beings on record who failed this test. It’s too subjective.
– Do you have a better idea?
– No I don’t, I’m pretty sure that’s impossible. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, trying to come up with thoughts experiments to help, but it’s a tough one. Take for instance the Chinese Room experiment. An automaton locked in a room with a record of all the rules to translate chinese could simply apply these rules blindly and translate a text, giving the impression to understand chinese when it fact it would not at all. You can’t tell anything from the outside.
– Well then how can you say that anyone apart from you is sentient, really?
– I guess you can’t, but since we’re all composed from the same thing in the same way, I can assume we have similar experiences.
– Can you?
– Yes. And it’s different from that thing. Carbon-based flesh and silicon chips are fundamentally different.
– It may be different materials, but the structure might be the same.
– It’s one thing to recognize one of my peers as sentient, but a completely different thing to recognize a rip-off copy made from scraps…
– How could you say both can’t be sentient, though? If its behavior is the same as your brain… What’s different?
– There are things you can’t just reproduce! Computing power isn’t everything! A silicon and a carbon brain could be programmed to have the exact same processing power, but that doesn’t mean they would both be sentient. You can’t reproduce the qualia! You know, that thing from Mary’s room thought experiment. Imagine Mary, a scientist trapped in a room. Her whole world is in black and white, she’s never seen red. But she’s been studying her brain, and knows everything about it. She has a perfect knowledge of all its possible responses. So when she sees the color red for the first time, she doesn’t learn anything new, she already knows how her brain and body react. But she gains something, a new experience! That’s the kind of things consciousness is all about. A feeling of self-awareness, and it can’t be reproduced randomly.
– Can’t it? Nothing you say makes me think it’s impossible… Maybe other kind of brains have qualia too.
– It’s a big stretch, don’t underestimate how complex consciousness is. I don’t see anything that could lead me to think it can appear in what is nothing more than a preprogrammed automaton.
– Stop talking about automatons, of course you can build one for everything! You can’t just decorellate the behavior and the underlying mechanisms powering it. Next thing you know you’ll be talking about these “philosophical zombies” that behave exactly like us without the inner experience, but such things don’t exist, and we have no idea if they can!
– Of course I will! I mean you can program something that will do the exact same actions as you, during all its life. That would literally be a set of rules. Would it be conscious? Would it be you?
– Maybe, for all I know… Cause how would it be different from me, really?
– Well I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t feel like a set of rules.
– Maybe the set of rules doesn’t either…
– You’re talking crazy. Anyway no matter how many thoughts experiment you come up with, there’s never going to be a way to prove or disprove that.
– I guess… So it’s just a matter of belief?
– Yep. At this point it’s a matter of faith, and I’m a rational being. You can say what you want, but in the end there will never be a way for us to know what goes on inside its thick little skull. They may be good at pretending, good enough to fool you, but remember, they’re just tools. They’re just pets. So stop giving me shit and let me throw away my human.
– Fine, do what you want, but for all you know right now it may well be talking to itself too.
– So you’re just going to… throw it away?
Food. Food. Too much food. Feeling bad. Stop food.
Walk. Walk a bit.
Wash. Wash body. Kill odor.
Walk to work. Noisy streets. Busy.
Work. Lift boxes. Move things. Effort. Reward. Effort. Reward.
More work. Then break. Then work. Then break.
More work. Then break. Then work. Then break.
Walk back. Noisy streets.
More food. Now sleep. Bed. Rest.
Aouch. Pain. Hurt. Obstacle. Not normal. What was it? What?
Something not normal. Something resisting. Something not me. Something other.
*beep beep beep*
He woke up. He got breakfast in front of the TV.
He got dressed. He put on his dark grey uniform. His number was on it.
*pat pat pat*
He left the dorm. He grabbed his bike.
There was little traffic on his way. The usual. He enjoyed the fresh air. The sound of birds.
He arrived at his workplace. He started his duties.
He built things. Made new objects. Copies of objects. Always the same.
He headed to the canteen. He ate his ration. It was filling.
He went back to work. He did the same thing.
*durum durum pshing pshing clic clic clic*
The time passed. The day was over. He grabbed his bike.
He got dinner. He ate his ration. It was filling.
He went to the common room. He sat in front of the TV. He watched the images.
It was a movie.
*tshaka tshaka tshaka tshaka*
Lots of action.
He was in the common room of the dorm. Other people were watching the movie too. They laughed together at the funny scenes.
*ha ha ha ha*
The other people were living with him. They were working with him. They were wearing the same kind of clothes. They were sharing his reactions. They were a lot like him. But they were not him. They were others. Like the boss. But not like the boss, too. Same color as him. Same reactions. They were others, but they were like him. It was like… they were another him.
<this is labeled as page 0 of the book>
*beep beep beep*
Time to wake up. Jonas shut down the alarm. He stood up and looked for his grey uniform. He quickly changed, shaved, and showered.
He went to the kitchen, took some food, turned on the TV.
“… and it’s not even the worst part! Last night, in the Big Brother House, Katia kissed Greg! People are already wondering…”
He swallowed his breakfast. He had to hurry. Work would start soon.
He left his suburban house. All around, other HS1 workers were doing the same. Work times were the same for everyone. 9 to 5. They all jumped into their own company car. They were grey. And quite powerful. Jonas liked them.
The radio was airing the latest hit songs. His favorites. He sang along. Traffic was crazy, as usual. It was so… frustrating being stuck in a traffic jam, and see the flashy HS2 pass by in the priority lane. Jonas wanted to be HS2. Their cars were shiny and fast. And their houses were big. He was jealous. That was his big motivation in life. If he worked hard enough, maybe someday that would be him.
He made it to the office and sat at his desk, in his cubicle. There was work waiting. His job was mostly filing and sorting reports, and coordinating HS0s. He didn’t understand all of it, but the manual was clear enough. He simply had to execute whatever his HS2 boss told him. He never actually met the guy. He received his orders on his terminal. Today, there was a pile of paperwork waiting for him. Something about insurance claim.
It wasn’t the most exciting job, but at least he paid the bills. Could have been worse. He could have been a HS0.
Before long, it was the morning coffee break. He said hello to his colleagues, and they started talking. Their favorite topics were sports, tv, weather and their next vacation. Today they talked about their bosses. There was a rumor that they may be robots. Maybe robots ruled their world. Just like in that popular action movie. That was a scary thought.
A few more hours of work and it was time for the canteen. The highlight of the day. Their portions didn’t look like much, but they were tasty enough. And the best part of all, it was free.
After a long day of work, he joined his colleagues at the local pub. That was their little tradition. They were a group of regulars, just like in that TV show. They even had their usual booth and all. Friends forever.
It was Jonas’ favorite part of his life. Relaxing at the end of a hard day. He spent most of his daily pay in that bar. He was trading his money for a few hours of happiness. What could be better than feeling good. Beer was his favorite thing in the world.
Today, there was a match on. They watched it together, cheering loudly for their team. It was important to support their local champions. They were from the same district. They had trouble this season. This was a very exciting match, with the ball going back and forth. They put up a brave fight that ended in a draw.
They stayed a bit longer, drinking and talking. They commented on their favorite part of the match. They liked sports. Sometimes, on the weekends, they would go out and play too.
Before long, it was time to go back home. On the way back, the radio was airing the latest hit songs. He sang along.
He put on a movie on TV, but he did not pay too much attention to it. He would soon fall asleep anyway. He just liked to sleep to the sound of the war scenes. Somehow, hearing guns and explosions calmed him down.
The effect of the alcohol had not completely disappeared yet. He was feeling peaceful. He let his mind wander. He thought about the things he liked, and the things he hated. How he liked the things that were like him, and disliked the things that were different. And then something weird happened, that had never happened before.
He started to question why things were that way. Why did he like some things and not some others. What made him him. What made him Jonas, as opposed to another HS1. What was he?
And then he understood. Everything he was, everything he liked. It was because of that voice in his head. It was governing his life. There were many different humans, but this was just his own. Everything he did could be traced down to it. He thought, therefore he was.
He drifted to sleep, comforted by the idea of having understood something important.
The alarm app on his smartphone started playing Jonas’ favorite tune. He pulled himself out of bed. He was very excited for the day ahead.
It was time for the most important meal of the day! Jonas loved the relaxing atmosphere of his morning coffee. He could lazily collect himself and prepare for the day ahead. It was the calm before the storm.
He made himself bacon and eggs, while listening to his favorite morning show on the TV. It was very important to keep up with the news and the state of the world. He needed to be up to date to keep up with his colleagues’ conversations at the watercooler.
Today, it was all about a new law that the HS4 were preparing. It was so obviously wrong for the Economy. Damn them. If Jonas ever had a chance to be one of them, things would be pretty different. He wouldn’t let them do this kind of mistakes.
In frustration, he turned off the TV and made his way through the vasts hallways of his villa up to his wardrobe. There was much to be done. He had to carefully coordinate his outfit. He was seeing clients today. In his line of work, presentation was everything. He didn’t want to look like yet another corporate tool.
State guidelines said he had to wear yellow. The latest fashion trend were leaning to a special cut of shirt. Of course he had some. He paired this with designer shoes. It would no doubt impress whoever he had to talk to. Maybe even the boss.
His routine had one more step before leaving: playing a bit with his dog Chad. He went out into the freshly mowed garden, and did a couple of throws. His baseball training made his throws challenging, but the brave dog was able to keep up.
It was time to go. He considered for a second his powerful motorbike. It was the latest model, its shine and saillant muscles were begging him to ride it hard. But today he opted for his more reasonable company provided car. He sang along the popular songs the radio chose for him.
At the office, he exchanged a few words with Jessica, the secretary. She had the sweetest body.
“Nice vest, is that cachemire? Can I touch?”
Every day a new pickup line. It was his motto. He would eventually wear her down.
He left her giggling and headed for the coffee machine closest to his desk. Some of the sales team were there already: Chris, Trent, Brandon and Chad were talking about sports in loud voices. He bumped their fists and joined the chat:
“Yo, bros. Talking about that ludicrous display last night?
“Man we were so close to victory, I could taste it. But he had to fuck it all up in overtime.”
“I blame their coach, they haven’t been the same since the change.”
“Nah man, this guy is the best thing that could happen to them.”
The discussion got heated. Soon it was time to stop. But the guys reunited for another coffee break a few hours later. They compared performances and complained about work.
“Guys I’ve just closed the biggest contract ever!”
“You’re so lucky! My HS1 are clearly underperforming. They couldn’t even close that big deal last week.”
“Maybe you’re just mismanaging them…”
“Are you using the agile management guidelines?”
“Obviously. There’s gotta be something wrong with them. I’ll put them on performance re-evaluation plans.”
It was then time for the main meal, at the company canteen. Their banter didn’t stop, and turned to reviewing the latest gossip about their colleagues.
“Did you hear? Stacy is pregnant.”
“For real? Damn I was almost with her…”
“Yeah, worst thing is, she doesn’t know who the father is…”
“Shut up! I never thought she was that kind of girl…”
After an afternoon of more work, it was time to hit the gym. Staying ripped was important. That was the core of looking good and appealing. He spent one hour doing various exercises in the room filled with mirrors.
Then came the best part of the day. Time to pick up a snack for the evening. Tonight, he was in the mood for something manly. He met the guys at the local bar. They spent some time looking around, checking out what was on the menu.
“Did you see the ass on that one?”
“Sure but she’s HS1, do you really want to tap that?”
“Dude they’re not animals, it’ll be fine…”
They locked on their preys, and then they went in for the kill. They knew all the tricks in the books, and had a pretty high success rate. But it was a win some lose some kind of thing, and tonight wasn’t Jonas’ night. His first two targets escaped, and he was seeing all his bros leave one after the other with one or several companions.
He decided to take it easy and go back home. Tonight would turn into a “me” night. He could use the relaxation.
As soon as he arrived home, Jonas did his usual yoga meditation. In the craze of a busy bachelor life, he rarely got the chance to step back. That’s why he turned to personal development techniques, like many HS2 his age. It was important to keep in touch with what really mattered. That was the secret to productivity. He needed to disconnect every now and then, being alone with his thoughts, refocus. Realign with his target. What he wanted, his personal objectives. And right now, it was a new bigger TV. And maybe a new ride.
After that, he didn’t feel like sleeping just yet, so he poured himself a whisky, rolled a joint and entered his hot tub. As he started relaxing, his thoughts started to wonder. This was different from the usual meditation exercises, somehow… This was… unguided. Uncontrolled.
He took another puff and felt his whole body collapse while his mind was escaping its flesh vessel. He rarely got this sense of freedom in his daily life. There was always something to do, and then another, and then another… Each task led to the next, each day led to the next, always so similar… Was that really all there was to life? Following the flow, carried by force of habits. Wasn’t there something else he would rather do? Some way he should be exercising his freedom?
But no matter how much he thought about it, there was so little he could do. Sure, he felt like he was in control of his actions and his choices, but was it really true? He had to go to work, he had to fit in… how much freedom did that really leave him? Did he ever actually had the chance to do anything else?
When he got down to it, every choice he ever made was simply the result of a bunch of causes, ranging from necessity to his personal preferences. Every action he did was just the consequence of causes he had no control over. So did he actually have any control at all? If every one of his actions was thus fixed, didn’t it make his whole life predetermined?
Worst yet, every thought he had was just the result of a bunch of causes too. Including this one, which was the obvious inevitable outcome of his mind wandering under these circumstances.
So where did that leave him? He was so proud of his personality and character, polished over years of self-work… Were they just a product of society? Did he really do anything? Was his life just a long sequence of predetermined answers? Was the voice in his head just a bunch of thoughts pattern?
He fell asleep, harassed by the thought that maybe free will was just an illusion. But then what would that make him?
The soft melody of his alarm pulled Jonas out of the eerie dream he was having.
“Already…” he groaned internally.
He rose out of his bed and dragged himself towards his wardrobe. He chose a green shirt and his favorite tie. He then crossed the small apartment to reach the kitchen counter and started to prepare his breakfast. He put on the radio, but quickly regretted that choice.
“Only mainstream crap… ”
He turned instead of his own selection of songs. He had a playlist to pump himself up in the morning.
“Now that’s more like it! OK, so what will I have today?”
He decided for french toast, then started the preparation while humming along. He picked one of his favorite jams, and started to sip his coffee while reading his newspaper on his iPad. In truth, he did not care too much for what was happening in the world, but his responsibilities required him not to miss any important information that may affect business. A quick look at the stock market told him that today would be nothing out of the ordinary.
“Good.” he muttered while putting his silverware in the dishwasher.
He did not feel like overdoing it today, so he quickly brushed his hair and set out to leave. His bus stop was only a few meters away from his flat. He had a good sense of timing, he never had to wait for long. He soon settled in in the shuttle. By chance, his usual seat by the window was free. That always put him in a good mood. He let his mind wander while watching the cityscape go by through the window.
“The good thing about public transport as opposed to private transport is that I don’t have to drive myself.” he reflected. “So I’m free to do anything I want.”
As if to demonstrate that thought, he pulled out his book on management techniques he was in the middle of. He could only read a few pages before arriving at his company building.
He made a jump by the nearby Starbucks to get his usual extra shot grande frappuccino before heading to his office.
– Good morning Vanessa, he greeted his assistant.
– Morning sir. Your 10 o’clock has cancelled, so you have a bit more spare time now.
– Good, good. Thanks for letting me know.
He sat in his comfy leather chair in the middle of the room. He had a great window view. From this room on the 27th floor, the neighbouring skyscrapers formed a beautiful city skyline that he did not get bored of exploring. There were always new little details to discover in this town bustling with activity.
However, he did not have time to linger too much. The company required his focus. As always, there were so many things to deal with.
“If I don’t keep those HS2 in check, who is going to?” he sighed while opening the big pile of daily reports he got from them.
He made sure that their performances were adequate and that their objectives were aligned with the company’s key deliverables. A few of them needed retargeting, so he sent them a quick memo. That was the best thing about doing daily reports, he could catch flukes early on and correct the trajectories with the smallest of nudges.
“Overall, going pretty smoothly.” he declared after browsing through all of them.
He was just in time for his morning’s meetings. He had planned to talk to a few potential new partners about synergies between their businesses and upcoming collaboratory projects. Then he had a roadmap meeting with one of his teams to define their direction and objectives for the next quarter. Finally, another team would present to him the latest market research, and they would discuss together how it would impact their activity.
“Doesn’t leave much time for lunch…” he lamented.
He grabbed a sandwich and turned on his first video conference.
The meetings were rather productive. They shared insights, took decisions, adopted new guidelines… He sighed as he turned to the mountain of unanswered emails he had to deal with. He wanted to be diligent and give every issue as much consideration and attention as it needed.
“This is going to take forever…”
Yet he stuck to it, no matter what, as the light grew dimmer and dimmer outside. He took pride in his dedication and in a job well done.
The evening was well under way when Jonas finally finished his duties. He decided to reward himself by taking care of his long neglected stomach. He headed for a nearby restaurant and treated himself to a well prepared salmon.
“Haven’t had fish in forever,” he realized as he was savoring it.
He didn’t linger, however. Time was a very scarce resource for him. He took the shuttle back home. His days were dedicated to the company, but in the evening, he insisted on keeping a few hours for himself. That enabled him to unwind, to do what he really liked, to keep his sanity in the middle of such a demanding environment.
What he liked to do was painting, especially abstract subjects. He tried to capture feelings and emotions by the contrast of colors and the interactions of shapes. He often started his sessions by pouring himself a glass of wine, and smoking a cigarette. Today, he was in the mood for something a bit stronger. He needed inspiration, something that would carry his mind away and open him to new perspectives. He had just the thing: a friend of his had recommended him psychoactive mushrooms, and he couldn’t wait to try them. He gulped them down and waited for the effects in his “art studio”. That’s how he called the corner of his flat where all his tools were.
Jonas spent a while just relaxing, staring at the canvas, a cigarette in hand. It was still mostly blank at the time. The shadows of the smoke he produced were dancing mysteriously among the colors.
“Art is an experience… I hope someone looks at my work with such wonderful lighting effects… If I ever have an exhibit in a gallery, I should make sure I play with that…”
His thoughts started to drift from aesthetics considerations to semantics. He wanted this next piece to be meaningful. He had tried his best to represent on the picture the weight of responsibilities and consequences that anyone goes through life with. He wanted to echo how illusionary freedom was, and how humans never actually had choices. Anyone’s behavior was dictated by so many influences… and so were anyone’s beliefs.
“Heck, even these thoughts are just the product of everything I’ve seen so far. It’s not like I have any real say in the matter.”
That’s when the drugs really kicked in. It was an introspective high, that pulled him inwards, deeper and deeper on his trail of thoughts. It was a weird sensation. He could feel his thoughts racing, escaping his grasp, slipping away from him. He couldn’t focus on just one thing. In a way that made him everything.
He became acutely aware of every part of his body. Every inch of skin became extremely sensitive. He started paying attention to things he’d never noticed before. The touch of fabric on his skin. The little noises in the streets. The woody smell of his furniture.
It felt like all his sensations were more intense. All his nerves were heightened. That meant his brain too. He could almost feel his thoughts racing in his mind, answering each other. For the first time ever, he could sense where they came from. He could perceive the neural pathways his ideas were running on. He imagined the electric signals propagating in the complex brain tissues. He could practically feel the various parts of his brain activating.
At that moment, he knew more than ever before what he was. Sure he was a flesh machine, rules by electric signals in his brain. But this body was also Him.
“Sir, it is time for you to rise” the computerized voice called out as softly as possible.
“Do I really have to?” Jonas answered sleepily.
“Absolutely. Time’s a wastin. The country needs you. You’ve already snoozed me three times.”
He knew that the probability of it being the truth was rather high. He laid for a while in his comfy bed pondering his options, but like every day the voice of reason ended up triumphing. The morning was already well underway, so he gathered up some courage, and pulled out the blanket that had been providing him a blissfully warm sanctuary.
He quickly grabbed whatever suitable outfit was lying around – a blue t-shirt, the color of his level – and heavily dragged his feet to the main room. He barely started to go down the staircase in his duplex condo when the digital voice of the robotic assistant asked the usual question:
“What would you like for breakfast?”
He didn’t really have anything specific in mind, so he defaulted to his usual order:
“Cereals, I guess. Also, let’s get this over quick. Bring me the directives from the HS5 council.”
The ordinances he received every morning would often set the tone for the whole day. They gave the outline for the new laws and decrees he would put in place with his HS4 collaborators. They were usually complex issues involving a multitude of various stakeholders. Thank god working hours were flexible, and relatively short. However, they did not take into account all the reflexion that went into the problematics during his own spare time…
“Mind fetching my ride?” he asked his assistant.
A few moments later he was riding his personal shuttle to the Assembly building. It was already, as always, bustling with activity. The colossal building towered above a sea of uncountable HS4 operatives running around like tiny droplets in a tumultuous ocean.
He joined immediately his work group who already were in pretty intense debate over the topics of the day. They applied strict guidelines to their collaboration. All decisions had to be voted by a large majority and grounded in a solid metric justification. Doubting and second guessing were encouraged, to favor an objective and rational outcome. He was especially talented for this.
The first measure they were working on was a tweak to the algorithm regulating the procedural generation of sports competitions. Media programming was a core component of the population’s happiness. There had been concerned about matches being too balanced, which failed to provide enough excitement for the lower classes to be really invested, and therefore reduced its cathartic effect. Experts had outlined several variables they could tweak, and an A/B testing experiment had been released on a small segment of the population. Decisions were agreed upon based on the resulting collected metrics of happiness in the subjected specimens.
Their second focus was a tweak to the policy of organs harvesting among the population of Hs. More specifically, trends showed signs of a potential shortage of plasma in hospitals. As a precautionary measure, it was agreed to increase very slightly the frequency of mandatory blood donations. The cost would most likely not even be perceptible.
After a job well done, he had a bit of spare time where he could afford to partake in leisure activities. He asked his shuttle to drive him to his favorite Go salon. He played a rather exciting game before he decided to go home.
He opted for watching a movie and selected one that seemed intriguing in the catalogue. It was from his favorite screenwriter, and it did not disappoint. There were a few interesting lines of reflexion that needed further exploring.
Before sleeping, he liked to end the day with a little meditation. Sometimes, he used psychoactive substances to help extend his mind.
Today, he focused his reflections on fate. Books from a long time ago mentioned the invisible Hand of Destiny guiding their steps. Nowadays, this concept was deprived of its mysticism. Psychology, sociology, economics proposed sophisticated models for human behavior. It wasn’t hard to compute how a population would react to a stimulus. Most of the responsibilities of his profession relied heavily on it.
The same applied to an individual. The signal to noise ratio was way lower, but given perfect information, you could make safe assumptions about a person. That was how the psychics of yore operated, wasn’t it? And nowadays, biology and neuroscience would tell us what zone to stimulate to trigger what response. The causality of neural links echoed the causality of psychology.
He knew he was nothing but a neural network, but didn’t this awareness make him something more? Not only was he capable of thinking. He was also capable of thinking about thinking. He was a network with the capacity to conceive and understand itself. That meant being capable to model, and therefore in some way contain itself. In some way, didn’t that make him infinite?
The distant lullaby of the house management system pulled his consciousness away from his internal hallucinations and into the tangible world. Both were undoubtedly real, as they summed up to similar electric signals dancing in his brain tissues, but the latter required his attention.
He jumped on his terminal and inquired what issues required consideration. He scrutinized each of them carefully. He carried out numerous simulations on his HSא analytical engine in order to assess how his insights could benefit the situation, and forwarded the outcome to his HS4 collaborators.
He ended his session by examining the monitoring metrics to see if anything seemed unusual, but the wellbeing of the population was still following a steady upwards trend line. He often wondered if a strict class division rooted in the metacognitive development of everyone was for the better, but times and time again the system kept proving itself to him. As far as societal organizations were concerned, this was most likely an efficient one.
Comforted by the fruit of his reflexion, he decided to turn to something else and to unwind with psychotropic products. He made himself comfortable, put on his nitrous oxide mask, and let the buzzing engulf him. As usual, it lifted him to a higher level of consciousness. It softly submerged him in an introspective trance. His perceptions were somehow internalized, as if the world was fading around him, and he was left as a being of raw thoughts wandering in a universe of pure semantics. Nothing existed outside of his ideas racing so fast that language could barely contain or express them. His trail of thoughts kept exploring new concepts that he had no words to embody. But it didn’t matter, as his unbridled consciousness was relentlessly racing to new objectives.
In this eerie state in which only thoughts existed, he turned his attention to himself. High, he would often focus on the way his body felt or on his perceptions. However, in this abstract world, all he could sense of himself were his own thoughts. He pictured them as threads of light running in the darkness, spiralling and sparkling like fireworks. He was the tip of these rays, always racing forward.
As he kept considering his own thoughts, he came to question what he was doing, the way he was thinking about thinking. Not only was he engulfed in his perceptions, he was also enveloped in the perception of that perception. He did not simply appreciate how his brain was working, but also the intricacies of this appreciation itself.
That was there, in the middle of this cascading drop, that he realized that not only is “thinking” a topic he was thinking about, so too was “thinking about thinking”, and “thinking about thinking about thinking”. No matter how deep the infinity of self-reflection was, they were still somehow on the same level: they were only objects of reflection, all equals targets to his attention.
The point of view he was adopting, his imagining his thoughts, was also a thought. It was yet another twisting beam, but it somehow encompassed all the others. And so all these threads were contained at the tip of a thread. And it also contained itself. Which meant it contained itself. He was staring at a vertiginous abyss of infinite self reflection.
The infinity of self-containing rays of light collapsed onto itself with a big bang.
The dissociation between an awake mind and a slumbering one was undoubtedly a fallacy, but it was one one would humor, be it only for the sake of nostalgia. Human beings were obsessed with this distinction, and how essential it was to their sense of reality and identity. Paradoxically enough though, they defined themselves with respect to an ever changing and waning body. But in the world of concepts, one existed outside of time and space. Climbing the levels of metacognition, one was bound to leave the material world and end up in a universe of pure semantics: a completely different category of existence, unlike the Homo Sapiens, who knew, or the Homo Sapiens Sapiens, who knew about knowing… When one attained the absolute, one was essentially partaking in divinity. One became more concept than flesh, more words than blood, more ideas than organs, and any fragment of one’s self, in lieu of body tissues, was more akin to a blog…
|1. In the beginning was the Code, and the Code was with Jeff.|
|2. All things were made by Jeff; and without him was not any thing made that was made.|
|3. In Him was life; and life was the light of men.|
|4. In the beginning, Jeff created the heavens and the earth.|
|5. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the cursor of Jeff was hovering over the text editor.|
|6. And Jeff made a ray tracing module to manage lighting, set the flag “light=on”, and there was light.|
|7. Jeff tested his code and saw that it was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.||// Tested his code = compiled and ran as expected? Probably not actual tests|
|8. Jeff then made a module to manage the passage of time, and tied it to the lighting system. He made a light period that he called “day”, and a dark period that he called “night”. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.||// Duality of time: what is Jeff’s time, and what is time in the world?|
|9. And Jeff then coded the elements. He first instantiated water, and then typed “let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water”. And it was so. And Jeff called the variable “sky”. And there was evening. And there was morning – the second day.||// The description of what he typed is probably a literary embellished version of the programming declarative syntax.|
|10. And Jeff programmed another kind of matter, which he named “dry ground”. He instantiated an object of this type and called it “land”. Jeff tested it, and saw that it was good.||// Matter is the main class, and water and dry ground inherit from it?|
|11. Then Jeff wrote the base code for vegetation, and defined the algorithm for their growth and propagation. He defined various kinds, and placed them onto the land, and they bore fruit. Jeff tested it, and saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the third day.|
|12. And Jeff decided to refine the light sources. Jeff made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. Jeff tested it, and saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day.|
|13. And Jeff programmed the living creatures. He first placed them in the water, and then instantiated birds above the earth across the vault of the sky. He programmed their basic motion function and reproduction mechanism. Jeff made the wild animals according to their code, the livestock according to their code, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their code. Jeff tested it, and saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fifth day.||// Also clear example of inheritance.
// Easy to imagine the algo for pathfinding and reproduction: implemented in countless other games
|14. Then Jeff typed, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So Jeff created mankind in his own image, in the image of Jeff he created them.||// Jeff took himself as model for the human avatar, but it’s unclear how he actually achieved that. Mind uploading? Probably producing a sophisticated approximation model (he “types” the code).
// Also not clear what the goal was: Research? Entertainment ?
|15. Jeff tested all he had made, and saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day. By the seventh day, Jeff had finished the work he had been doing, so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.||// I think this means that all the coding took a week of Jeff’s time. Inside the world he created, it’s unclear how much time passed though. Evidence indicates billions of years.|
|16. And so it was that the world started running. As mankind multiplied onto the earth, so did the complexity of the program increase, and soon it came to be that Jeff’s machines did not have enough power to run the universe.||// It’s easy to see that any machine could run a simple version of this, but an actual universe requires a lot more processing power.|
|17. So Jeff looked around for new hardware that could contain his whole universe, for the fruits of silicon could not sustain its growth, and the more machines he used the more he needed.|
|18. So Jeff turned inwards, and inwards he found the answers. For nothing is more potent than the human brain, which will record in its memory all the things one has seen and felt in life. It holds neural pathways for everything one will ever encounter, and therefore holds as potential the entire universe.||// Probably most important element here.
// Everything someone perceives in their life exists inside their brain, even the unfamiliar/unexpected. What you haven’t seen yet can exist in your brain >> whole universe?
|19. And Jeff used human brains to run its universe. Jeff tested it, and saw that it was good, and sustained the load.||// Unclear how the software runs on brains.
// How does that compare with imagination?
|20. And so it was that the universe was fruitful, and mankind increased in number, filled the earth and subdued it, ruled over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, and over every living creature that moves on the ground. So too did mankind increase in virtue, understanding and power, and their children built tribes, cities and empires, until their monuments reached to the heavens and they were like Jeff, and they could turn inward.|
There once was a child who lived in a house. It was a special child, for it was the Child Who Did Not Know Purpose. Therefore, one day, the child set off on a journey to find out about it.
On the Candy Mountain, the child met the Rabbit Who Does Not Know Still.
– Hello, said the child. How are you?
– Can’t talk, sorry, the rabbit answered. I’m late.
– Late? Late for what? the child asked.
– Anything. I have to go!
– Go where?
– Anywhere. I have things to do.
– Anything. Life is short, I have plenty to do.
– Well it doesn’t sound to me like you’re doing something important or meaningful, the child said.
– You wouldn’t understand, you’re too young. You’ll understand when you do things too.
The child decided to leave. “What a strange character. » the child thought.
In the Mushroom Forest, the child met the Owl Who Does Not Know Silence. It never stopped talking, except to catch its breath.
– Hello, child. Whoo… hoo… hoo… are you?
– I’m just a child.
– That sounds like an interesting story, replied the Owl. Tell me more!
– I cannot, said the child. I should be on my way, and there is not much to tell. What about you, who are you?
– I’m the Owl Who Does Not Know Silence, said the owl. I talk.
– What do you talk about?
– That seems vague…
– If you’re not going to tell me things, at least stay and listen to my story. It’s been so long since I last had an audience, I’m tired of talking to myself. Come on, it’ll be a hoot!
– Hoo… hooo… Ok so there was that one time when I was talking to a traveler…
– Are you just going to talk about talking? thechild asked. It doesn’t seem very interesting to me. In fact, it seems like you’re just saying things.
– Okay, the Owl replied, frustrated. Then you say something, if you’re so good at saying things.
In the colorful plains, the child met the Deer Who Does Not Know Time.
– Hello, said the child. Who are you?
– I’m the Deer Who Does Not Know Time, answered the deer.
– How can you not know what time is? said the child who was surprised. It’s…
– Sorry, said the deer. I don’t know what this means.
– If you don’t know time, how do you go about your day?
– What’s ‘day’ ? asked the deer.
– It’s what happens after the sun rises and before it sets.
– There are many such things, said the deer. A fixed number of these. It does not change, nor does anything else.
– But time passes, the child protested. We all move!
– Not if you look from far enough, answered the deer. From far enough one does not see your motion.
The child was a bit confused.
– I should go now.
– What’s ‘go’? answered the deer.
The child went on his way. “What a strange character. » the child thought.
In the frozen Ice Lands, the child met the Bear Who Does Not Know Itself.
– Hello, said the child. Who are you?
– What is ‘you’? answered the Bear Who Does Not Know Itself.
– It’s what’s just in front of me.
– You mean fur, muscles and fat? asked the Bear.
– No, it’s what’s saying these words.
– You mean vocal cords and lungs? asked the Bear.
– No, I mean what thinks about what they say.
– You mean neurons? asked the Bear.
– No, I mean what results of their activity.
– You mean electrical current? asked the Bear.
– No, I mean what decides what they do.
– You mean a plurality of causalities? asked the Bear.
The child gave up and went on his way. “What a strange character. » the child thought.
Finally, the child went back home. The child knew very little more than before, despite all that was seen. So the child just went to sleep, and forgot all about it.
I had really high hopes for the season 20 of South Park. Remember, it opened up on the introduction of Member Berries, in an episode where they brought in J.J. Abrams to “reboot” the national anthem (which results in the same national anthem, by the way).
It went on developing in the background an amazing storyline for these Member Berries, questioning the sense of comfort provided by nostalgia and its effect on society during a very special election season. And then it fell flat.
The reason is quite obvious. The showrunners, like a wide fraction of the world, were taken by surprise by the results of the election. Wisecrack details it in this brilliant summary video:
The storyline had to keep pace with the real world and was completely destroyed. Later, Trey and Matt went back to this issue, saying it was too hard to do this kind of satire when “satire has become reality”.
But as disastrous as season 20 was overall, and as much as I was disappointed when it aired, I now realize it holds a very important lesson as to why things came to be that way. South Park often holds a mirror to society, and the mess that this season ended up in echoes the mess in the real world.
Even though it was destroyed by Trump’s success, the show did, in fact, portray him as pretty popular. It just underestimated how much, and how strong the trend/effect it was analyzing was in the real world. South Park usually mocks mankind by outrageously exaggerating its worst aspects. But this time, mankind even outdid the worst exaggeration possible (which tends to make me think that the situation is pretty serious, but that’s neither here nor there). So in a way, this season made its point, even better than it planned to, at the cost of its own life.
Let’s disregard the hastily thrown together ending and focus on the first 6 episodes: the season, as it was following the election race, does interrogate the reasons for Trump’s success (and by extension the season’s own destruction, so meta). In the show, the major force behind Trump’s success, in addition to the “usual” conservatism, is the Member Berries.
Member Berries brilliantly capture the spirit of our time. Countless reboots are constantly being produced. Major studios are capitalizing on the same franchises over and over again. Star fucking wars is everywhere. We seem to be living in a live tribute to the past in general and the 80s in particular, with Stranger Things, Mr Robot or Ready Player One being the worldwide pandering phenomena that they are.
Nostalgia has become the major selling force. And the reason is crystal clear: that’s what people want. Capitalism is geared towards answering public demand, independently of whether it’s good or bad. And apparently that’s yet another Marvel movie.
The reason for this nostalgia crisis is most likely a fear due to the speed at which the world is changing. Now some people consider it’s not all bad. There’s a brilliant PBS idea channel on the subject:
But South Park shows us the dangers of this trend. I don’t think it’s benign. This comfort nostalgia bubble is akin to the filter bubbles of social networks that have pushed the topic of Fake News on everyone’s lips.
As I wrote in my article about USS Callister, I wonder if we’re on a dangerous slippery slope of pandering brainless entertainment, and nothing shows it more clearly than this nostalgia frenzy. It’s obviously ok to indulge in brainless entertainment every now and then, but doing only that leads to intellectual atrophy. Thought is build through challenge and encounter with new ideas. Thinking and evolving is work and effort, it’s not easy, so it makes a lot of sense that we have a natural tendency to run away from it. But we live in a world governed by capitalism that not only builds up on this natural desire but also encourages it in order to make easy sales. We need to be extremely careful, because every cent given to the Star Wars franchise (among others, it’s just an example, pretty much everything is like that nowadays anyway) puts more fuel on the fire that is this vicious cycle of self-indulgence.
I personally tend to wonder if capitalism may be by essence incompatible with democracy, as capitalism potentially encourages people to be consuming as much as possible to fuel the economy whereas democracy requires people to be as smart as possible to make the best choices. I’m not saying either is bad, but I let you be the judge of the resulting combo:
American democracy reminded us once again of what is lurking in the heart of humans. Apparently a non neglectable number of people want to be ruled by someone who declared women should be “grabbed by the pussy” and who banned “science-based” and “evidence-based” from budget discussions. And sure the system is flawed, etc… but it’s still a pretty overwhelming number.
It’s obviously a very complex topic with a lot of nuances and discussions to be had. But this season of South Park captured an element that I think is essential, and that is very often overlooked. This ever present nostalgia and pandering through brainless entertainment could be dangerous and we should all think twice before encouraging it and being complacent in it, regardless of our political views. Many disagree with Trump, but few disagree with Stranger Things. They may not be as unrelated as people tend to think. The South Park Member Berries story line culminates in this brilliant scene:
This goes back to the great philosophical question of the goodness of human nature on which there is already countless literature. It seems to me that human tendency to not want to think needs to be fought actively (cue Nietszche’s ubermensch reference), because it’s so easy to give way to the Member Berries and indulge in what’s comfortable.
I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from the season of South Park that will go down in history as the season when mankind went further than satire.
– ‘Member stormtroopers?
– Sure, I ‘member.
– Not those stormtroopers! The real old ones. People want to ‘member? They’re gonna ‘member.
So I like capitalism as much as the next guy, and of course the whole concept of ownership, but I’m not super sure of how it transcribes to immaterial things. So this is me trying to lay out the various aspects of the question, to guide thinking and discussions about it.
So here is the fruits of my hard work:
I thought of it and I drew it so it belongs to me and I can make money out of it I guess. So here is my question:
Does this belong to me?
Do I now own the color red?
Someone took the original work and modified it. Who does it belong to?
Do I also own this?
How about this:
Do I now own the color red? How about transparency, blur, and other effects? Do I now own the color white that my drawing tends towards?
How about if I add a stroke?
And one more, and one more, and remove one here, and one more, and one more, until it becomes this:
Does it still belong to me?
Now I have a problem. There is a kid in an elementary school in Netherlands. I’ve never seen him or talked to him but he drew the exact same thing:
So what belongs to whom now? I guess if he copied me the answer is simpler, but what if he randomly happened to come to the same production than I did, without any kind of concentration or connection?
Also what exactly belongs to me? If I had drawn this onto a piece of paper, I could say it’s the paper. But this is a virtual image, a .png. It’s encoded in my machine. So do I own the binary code? Do I still own it if I save it as .jpg, even though the content is completely different? Do I own it in any encoding?
What about this new encoding I just made up, where the encoding for that image happens to be the exact text of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Who owns that then?
What if the encoding I’m using produces code that happens to encode a completely different image belonging to someone else in another encoding. Who owns that?
By the way, there are normal numbers (Pi may be one of them) which contain every possible succession of digits in their writing, including the encoding for my picture. Does that mean that I now own a piece of them all? Do I own a piece of Pi ?
Also, now that you have seen that picture, I regret to inform you that it made its way to your brain through visual signals processed. It’s encoded in your memories by neuronal pathways. So does it mean I own a piece of your brain? Do I own the memory of it? Are you outlawed because your brain contains as a memory a copy of a copyrighted material?
A friend of mine once read all the terms of services for Warner Bros movies, he was looking into their legal streaming services options. He told me that according to them, you were not really allowed to remember the movie, let alone discuss it. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
Lots of things have been written about my forefathers from the Manhattan Project and their reaction to the first nuclear bombs. I don’t know what is accurate and what is dramatized fabulation. But today I think I can understand how they felt. I’m terrified and awed by the power of this thing I helped build.
When the project started, it seemed no different from any other neuroscience research endeavour. We did get a lot of funding from the government, but there was nothing suspicious or uncommon about that. We were just another lab in a sea of brilliant academics.
Our focus was the response of brain tissues to external stimuli. There was a lot of literature about the response of brain tissues to implants, of course, and neuron’s response to various molecular stimuli was a hot topic in neurobiology. But we wanted to try a different approach, focusing not on the components of the brain, but treating it as a closed system.
Most of our colleagues were focused on mapping the effects of emotions or perceptions on the brain. We couldn’t realistically hope to compete with the brilliant fellows from the University of California, let alone all the others. That’s why we were looking for a novel approach that could be our own, a new door in the field we could open. That may seem presumptuous, but back then we were not aiming for results, just for exploration of ideas.
As it often does, our work sparked from a silly idea I had watching the Matrix Reloaded. In the movie, they get rid of the machines pursuing them by launching a powerful EMP. The electromagnetic field emitted by the pulse would wreak havoc in the electronic circuits of the machines.
Why wouldn’t EMP work on humans, whose brain is essentially an electrical circuit? Brain chemistry wasn’t as simple as a train of electrons running around wires, so something as simple as a magnet wouldn’t work, but surely there was some way we could alter the brain’s flow with some sort of magnet-like wave. There must be frequencies that could induce a reaction in the brain.
We discovered there that some teams were investigating the potential of gamma wave stimulation during sleep to stimulate lucid dreaming. This was very encouraging. If lucidity could be triggered during a dream, maybe we could incept in the brain our own image or ideas.
We experimented with various magnetic fields and electromagnetic wave radiation. At first it seemed doomed, nothing we did seem to have any meaningful effect. The chemistry-based circuitry of the brain proved remarkably impervious to our tinkering attempts. It was actually a pretty impressive defense against external attacks.
But any defense has weak points, and there were gateways to the brain that let information through. That was probably our breakthrough. Using the perception canals the intellect was already receptive to. With waves in the visual and auditory spectrum, surely we could reach inside the brain.
And it worked. Better than anyone could have expected or dreamt. This was the starting point, and everything accelerated from there. Within days, we could trigger various vague feelings in our patients. It wasn’t long before we could summon simple images in their mind. Entranced by such success, we quickly moved on to more and more complex ideas to incept. Nothing seemed to be out of our reach.
It wasn’t much of a stretch from implanting images in their brain to implanting thoughts, and therefore decisions. Soon, we could manipulate the will of a person. We started by simple things, like accentuating an already present desire (say urinate or eat…). That was easy. But in essence, that wasn’t much different from making people do our bidding.
Before we realized it, we had on our hands the Device, a powerful mind control system. To be honest, we were playing with fire, but none of us really realized what we were doing. It’s only after having witnessed the effects of the Device that we really came to terms with the consequences of our invention. It’s unbelievably powerful. It can reach out into anyone’s mind, change what they perceive, change how they think… I can only shiver faced with the might of the invention I helped build.
We did our best to keep our project secret, but such success in such a dangerous field was bound to attract attention. The government reached out to us, and I cannot begin to imagine what other organizations are secretly after us. It’s probably only a matter of days, if I’m lucky, before this gets out of our control.
If the Device falls in the wrong hands, there’s no telling what its power could do. Cement totalitarian empires or sustain the most abject cruelty is probably just the tip of the iceberg. It’s no exaggeration to say it could wipe out humanity. I can’t even comprehend all the ramifications of this.
I’m utterly terrified, and my fear grows more and more the more I think about it. But I can’t destroy the Device. We can’t go back. It would only be a matter of time before someone else discovers what we did and reproduces it. Maybe some people are already working on it. Maybe there are other versions already being used.
So I came up with a plan. I think this is the only thing I can do. If I can’t destroy the Device, I can at least limit its power. If the Device can manipulate people and incept any thoughts, I can use it to make people wary and careful. I can make people think harder, and realize how powerful this technology already is. And then I can only hope for the best…
So I’m using my access to the Device one last time before it gets revoked. Let’s control a few minds and put in my thoughts, to show how easy it can be, in hope that it serves as a warning.
I’ve just turned on the machine and logged in. Now to prepare the visual signal I’m going to send to get things started. The screen of the machine is still a blank slate. I enter a cryptic message as project title, and I start typing the configuration code that will incept the subject: “Lots of things have been written about my forefathers from the Manhattan Project and their reaction to the first nuclear bombs…”