Self improvement versus creating a non-eudaemonic dystopia

I recently read Nick Bostrom‘s paper on the future of human evolution. The paper was published in 2004/5 and his views correlate with mine quite well. I am pleased to note that I am only about two to three years behind the times in having formulated my thoughts on the issue at hand. Ha! Not bad for an amateur. Moving forward…

Reading Bostrom’s paper was fascinating. In essence he makes the point that continuing to increase fitness will result in a dystopian world when measured with present human values and I agree. From the perspective of a present day human the evolution towards non-eudaemonic agents as Bostrom puts it seems like a scenario one has evolved to dislike. Since we have evolved to regard as good what has increased fitness in our ancestors we would have to fail to see anything unrecognizable human as a desirable future state. But is the deep desire to improve oneself not just as well part of human nature? Where but to something posthuman shall such self improvement lead if we for ever regard what is desirable from our current perspective?

Self improvement can be seen as a series of gradual changes. Consider the following scenario. A person approaches the matter of self improvement in a way to ensure that every improved following version of his self will be desirable from the unimproved version’s point of view. How desirable will the 100th improvement look from the point of view of the original? How about the 1 millionth? No matter at what improvement step the original will draw the line – at some point the improved version will turn into something that is unrecognizable, incomprehensible yes even scary to the original.

How do you picture the encounter between an early rodent – one of our direct ancestors a few 10 million years ago – and a modern day human. The rodent would probably flee in panic and some humans likely as well. But would the rodent lament over the sad abandonment of gnawing on stones? After all it is enjoyable and keeps ones teeth in shape. Or would it – having the full understanding of a human being – appreciate that other concepts, worries and habits are what a human holds dear in modern times? Which perspective take priority? “Of cause the human one!” is what one would expect from the anthropic chauvinists’ camp . But would the one millionth improved version as discussed earlier not argue the same for its manifestation?

Reconciling the desire to satisfy the ever changing current representation of an individual with the desire for self improvement and the implications for the future of human evolution becomes the challenge that needs to be addressed. Bostrom does so by suggesting what he calls a Singleton – an entity policing continued human evolution to maintain the status quo.

In the context of my friendly AI theory I suggest a similar approach to Bostrom’s Singleton however honoring Ben Goertzel‘s ‘voluntary, joyous, growth’ concept and thus allowing for the possibility of continuous self improvement.

Specifically I argue for a friendly AI to

A) change the environment(s) humans are in to increase an individual’s fitness as opposed to changing the genetic/memetic makeup of and individual to adopt it better to it’s environment.

B) reconcile our desire for self improvement with the problematic results discussed above by making growth optional as well as rewarding.


  1. Evolved Clockwork said,

    November 9, 2007 @ 6:54 pm

    I don’t think you’ll be able to make “friendly” AI do anything to your liking any more than the rat a few tens of millions of years ago who was your great-great-etc. daddy could make *you* do things, e.g. improve the environment for today’s rats.

  2. Stefan Pernar said,

    November 9, 2007 @ 7:33 pm

    For an non friendly AI I would agree 99.9%. For the remaining 0.1% you can check Rolf Nelson’s thoughts on deterring rouge AIs. A friendly AI however would by definition act in your best interest. The tricky part lies in formulating a set of friendly goals that would make the AI friendly. I wrote a paper on the matter that you can find here:

    Benevolence – a Materialist Philosophy of Goodness v1.1

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