Date: Fri Jan 18 2002 - 21:02:36 MST
If we are lucky, our pets may keep us as pets
by Brad Templeton
The first super-intelligent beings may not be based on humans at all, but on
apes. Since moral and legal considerations will limit experimentation with
human brain >uploading</A>, scientists may first turn to apes, and they may
quickly enhance themselves. Could they become our overlords, à la >Planet</A> of
Many have debated just how the first superior or "post-human" intelligences
might come to be. While some don't think we'll ever spawn something smarter
than humans, many people in the >AI</A>, >uploading</A>, >nanotechnology</A> and related
communities think it's only a question of how and when.
The big debate is whether we will do this by creating an "uploaded" human
being, or a true >artificial intelligence</A>. An uploaded human being comes about
by scanning the brain of an existing person in some fashion, and using that >
information</A> to create an >artificial brain</A> with the same neural pathways and
other connections and systems that make a brain what it is. This uploaded
person could be a copy of a living person or a re-animation of a deceased
one, or the process could be done gradually, replacing a >biological</A> brain >
neuron</A> by >neuron</A>, turning a living cell-based brain into one based on
something else right in the skull.
The uploaded person would think and act just like a traditional human, if
given a similar environment and body (>biological</A> or otherwise) to be part of.
However, the temptation to enhance this new brain would be tremendous, and
many predict such people would quickly become super-human. They would start
by >thinking</A> faster, and expanding and perfecting their >memory</A> and other
mental abilities. Then they might connect themselves with outside data
networks and databases, giving them the ability to learn >knowledge</A> just by
copying it, or gather more of it faster than any natural human. And of course
they (we?) will enhance their brains in ways that present-day thinkers have
not yet conceived.
Others expect the success will first come to the effort to create an >
artificial intelligence</A> with hand-written or evolved >software</A>, running on
computers like the ones we have today, or their successors. Such beings would
be more alien to us than uploaded people, though they would be our children
in a fairly real sense, designed at first by us, instilled with our values,
and quite possibly raised by us as children are. However, clearly they will
begin superior to us in many aspects (perfect memories, superb mathematical
and rote skills and much more) and initially inferior to us in others. Soon
they would surpass our abilities in almost all areas.
Modern humans can't really conceive of how these "post humans" would think or
act, any more than apes can write stories about human >philosophy</A>. Indeed,
noted author >Vernor Vinge</A> calls this point of transition to post-human >
intelligence</A> a ">singularity</A>," a metaphorical reference to the mathematical
discontinuities beyond which prediction is impossible.
I happen to slightly favor the >uploading</A> camp. To upload a mind it is
necessary only to understand the lower level workings of the brain enough to
recreate them in another medium. One need not understand much about the
higher level activities which bring about conscious and intelligent >thought</A>.
Just as a >hardware</A> engineer can build a >computer</A> which can play chess knowing
only about how transistors and logic gates work. The chess >software</A> she
simply copies. To build a real >AI</A> requires that we actually either understand
how >intelligence</A> works--which we are not close to doing, or perhaps that we
understand its mid-level functions and create something we can turn
intelligent by raising it over the course of many years, just as we do with
our own babies.
However, the >uploading</A> scenario presents a rather disturbing conclusion. The
first super-beings may not be based on humans at all, but instead may be
In the course of modern >science</A>, it is always the case that we >experiment</A>
with animals first, years before we attempt anything on people. It's the
ethical way, and in many cases the only legal way. As such, as we develop the
>technology</A> to scan or convert an existing brain into an artificial form,
we'll try this first on animals. We'll start with lower ones, and then work
up to our closest relatives, the chimpanzee and bonobo.
Some suppose the >uploading</A> process might begin by scanning a recently
deceased human brain, which can be done with minimal legal complication.
Others feel it might be better to work with a living brain, or a healthy
brain that was killed deliberately for the purpose of scanning--what might be
called a "destructive scan" if expressed in cold technical >language</A>. We'll do
this with apes several years before we do it with humans. Of this I am fairly
Indeed a great moment of success will come when somebody first creates an >
artificial brain</A> that is a copy of a real chimp's brain, and which is shown
to all outside signs to act, think and remember like the original living
chimp. It is unlikely that scientific >ethics</A> or law would allow things to be
done with humans until the process has been reliably demonstrated multiple
times on apes. That even applies to dead humans, since many, including
myself, would argue that the human with a non->biological</A> brain is still a
human being and worthy of certain rights.
Once this chimp brain is created, it will cause a flurry of >research</A>. Quite
possibly, the ">software</A>" part of the brain will be published and made
available for others to work on, and the >hardware</A> will be readily available
Indeed, the >software</A> of this chimp brain might be made available for free
distribution. An ">open source</A>" ape, for all to >experiment</A> on.
And they will >experiment</A> on it. Once again, even if a human brain is
similarly available, moral and legal considerations will limit what
experimentation can be done, while actions on the ape-brain will probably not
be nearly as limited.
Apes however are remarkably similar to humans. As you may know, chimps share
98% of our >DNA</A>. In addition, we have made intensive study of the ways in
which they are different, and we will attempt to learn more.
Thus some of the first experiments on this artificial chimp brain will be to
enhance it along the lines that humans and chimps are different. Humans are
not so qualitatively different in our brains from chimps, though the few
differences have a magnified effect in our capabilities. We have more of
certain types of brain structures, and some of our structures are larger and
have more neural connections. There is no component of a human brain not
found in a chimp brain. Experimenters will quickly try to see what happens if
you modify those aspects of the working chimp brain. They will also "graft" >
information</A> from post-mortem and live scans of human brains, where available.
If the artificial chimp brains "run" much faster than >biological</A> ones, they
will be able to perform these experiments quickly. They may be able to have
their >computer</A> play out a thousand different experimental scenaria, each
playing out years of >biological</A> scale time--perhaps in just a day of real
time. They will quickly learn what works and what doesn't, what enhances and
what doesn't. And there will be many of them.
I think quite quickly they could create a chimp brain capable of human level >
intelligence</A> or beyond. It may then need training or "rearing" by real human
parents, but it will be a very quick and supremely capable learner. All this
will happen much more quickly than the ethical changes to occur which would
allow scientists to do similar experiments on human based brains.
The chimp brain might also marry the chimp with the best that grounds-up >
artificial intelligence</A> has to offer at the time. The post-human may be the
result of the combination of the two. Vinge, in his 1966 story, "Bookworm,
Run" (now back in print in his latest collection) imagined a >computer</A>-linked
live chimp that tried to escape its creators using its near to human (and in
some ways superior) level >intelligence</A>.
Of course, once these enhanced chimp brains--or perhaps best to describe them
as hybrids of chimpanzee base, human improvements and >AI</A> >software</A>--do become
as smart as or smarter than us, they will of course continue the >research</A> on
how to enhance themselves. At this point they may decide their own ethical
rules about how this takes place. But smart as they are, and with human
friends as they will have, they will quickly become powerful in the human
Charleton Heston as Taylor in Planet of the Apes zoomed into the >future</A> to "a
>planet</A> where apes evolved from men." Perhaps this wasn't entirely ridiculous.
Assuming they can think both better and faster than we can, it won't be long,
in fact, before they are running the ">planet</A> of the apes." Is this a >
dystopian</A> nightmare or a potential paradise? That, we can't predict. They may
feel quite a debt to their creators--humans tend to think that way--or they
might hate us. They might well also arrange for humans to go through the same
process that improved them, now that it is fully developed, and as such
humans themselves would reach post-human >intelligence</A>.
But the chimps would have gotten their first, and the humans would not
necessarily be any smarter than they are. Just more experienced at living in
real time, and more used to the enhanced parts of their minds. Minsky
wondered if ordinary humans would be lucky enough to be kept as pets by these
superior intelligences; one wonders if he imagined that "they" might be our
former pets to begin with?
In part, we should hope that the uploaded apes are bonobos rather than
chimpanzees. Bonobos and chimps split from a common ancestor that itself
split from the human line about 7 million years ago. Bonobos evolved in a
land of plenty, and thus are peaceful, caring, hedonistic and fairly
egalitarian in their social structures. Chimps are strongly hierarchical and
violent in theirs, due to the harsher environment they evolved in. So let's
encourage the researchers that do >experiment</A> with copies of ape minds to tend
toward the bonobo. You may be choosing the >future</A> masters of the world.
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