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Saturday, April 14, 2018
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I’m always looking for a way to take a break, and by that I mean, engage in some activity which recharges my batteries a little bit, but which simultaneously doesn’t derail me or take up a huge amount of time. As it turns out this combination is difficult to achieve, and by any objective standard it’s one I’ve largely failed at. My breaks either end up taking too long, or completely derailing me from being productive, or draining my energy rather than replenishing it, and most of the time, all three.
One of the few effective ways I’ve discovered to take a break is reading a webcomic. Doing so takes almost no time (unless Randall goes crazy on XKCD), recharges my batteries (particularly on the all important scale of energy per unit of time) and mostly doesn’t derail me. (Though I’m still kind of working on that part.)
All of this is a prelude to talking about a specific webcomic: Existential Comics and I bring it up to illustrate my experience at the Conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association (MTA) this last Saturday. The choice of this comic works on several levels. First the topic of existential despair came up several times. Second Existential Comics is all about philosophy, a subject which dominated the conference. Finally ,and most importantly, the most recent comic (at least at the time of the conference) seemed to really nail my relationship with the MTA.
The comic features Buddha and David Hume discussing philosophy in a bar. They quickly discover that they both agree that there is no “self”. No transcendental being separate from what’s experienced. After realizing this Buddha asks Hume what should be done as a consequence of this realization. Hume is sure, after being so in sync thus far, that their answers will be the same, and proposes that they respond simultaneously. And, on the count of three, Buddha responds, “Turn away from sensual pleasure and earthly passions into contemplation.” At the same time as Hume says, “Pursue only your sensual pleasure and passions over your reason!”
As it turns out, from the same premise Buddha and Hume reached exactly the opposite conclusion. This is kind of how I feel about the MTA. We both agree that technology has created an entirely new landscape, particularly with respect to religion, but they think it’s revealed how humans can assist in far greater measure with the project of salvation than was previously thought possible. While I think technology has gotten to the point where we can finally understand how truly impossible it is to assist with salvation, and more specifically our progress has revealed to a greater degree, that the limiting factor has always been our morality, not our abilities.
I should mention, at this point, before going any further, that I did enjoy the conference, perhaps because, as opposed to last year, there was more focus on the premise, where we are both in agreement, than on their conclusion, which is where we differ. But it’s also possible I enjoyed it more because I was presenting, which not only led to more interaction, but a greater feeling of control with the whole thing. I should also mention that no one brought up any of my previous criticisms. (I’m still not sure if they ever made the connection.) And everyone was kind and welcoming. And better than all that my presentation was very well received, which covers any number of other issues. (Here it is if you want to view it.) All of this is not to say that I’m going to join the MTA, or that I don’t think they’re making some fairly serious mistakes in their interpretation of LDS Theology, but I came away from this conference more aware of where we agreed, and more convinced that they are aware of some of the issues with their conclusion. I’m sure there are also issues with my conclusion. Finally, if any MTA members read this and feel that I’ve misrepresented them, they should definitely point that out. Since the remainder of this post will be commentary on the conference. I’ve made no secret of the fact that one of the big reasons I attend the MTA Conference is to get material for my blog, and I should use that material while it’s fresh.
(For those uninterested in Mormonism in general and the MTA in particular, I will return with something of more general interest next week.)
The first two presentations of the day actually made me think that I should have waited until after the conference before posting last week’s entry, since both downplayed the importance of immortality, which I had made a major point of. That said, it is in their affirmation, and later presentations (including a keynote from the CEO of a longevity company) convinced me I wasn’t that far off. But, in any event, both of the initial presentations contributed to the positive feelings I mentioned above.
Turning our focus to just the first presentation, the speaker made the point that there is a danger in a purely technological approach to the world. That technology has a tendency to reduce everything down to a tool, and that it kills society and by extension humanity through this dissection. He mentioned the idea of turning humans into instruments and then referenced Robin Hanson’s keynote from last year’s conference where Hanson discussed his book the Age of Em. I suppose this is another illustration of humility, that you would use a presentation from last year as your prime example of what you don’t want to happen. And this is another thing I agree on, the world described in the Age of Em sounds kind of awful. But it does represent one of the potential logical end point of this instrumentalization he was talking about. Having said that what’s the solution?
The speaker’s solution was to complement technology with religion or at least a religious approach. Which is essentially another way of stating the philosophy and ideology the MTA and I both share. In other words, I couldn’t agree more, and, once again, this illustrates why I decided to engage with the MTA and even present.
Moving on, the first presentation was good, but it was really the second presentation that made me question whether I was misrepresenting the MTA in the post I had just published the very morning of the conference. The second presentation started out with the inevitability of death, and more than that, the presenter made precisely the point I made. That ethics and immortality were incompatible. That you can’t test something if the test never ends. And then to take it to the next level she illustrated this point with a clip from the Good Place. For those of you familiar with the show it was a clip from Season 2 where Chidi induces existential despair in Michael (Ted Danson) by finally bringing home the possibility of death. Which is what starts Michael on the path to understanding morality and ethics.
From this example she made the point that most of the time we are in either one of these two states. Either we’re like Michael at the end of the clip and we’re completely overwhelmed with how short and pointless life appears to be, or we’re like Michael at the beginning, where we care very little about morality because we think we’re going to live forever. Into this later category she places some members of the Church. Contending that sometimes we don’t care enough about mortal suffering because we think that in the end, it will turn out okay. That when someone is suffering, say from a bad home environment or just from living in a less-developed country, that the average LDS response might be that their suffering will all eventually be to their benefit. Her main example was a gentleman who recently caught on fire while barbecuing, and died after several days of agony, but, she contended, the average Mormon might respond, “it’s fine he’s going to be resurrected.”
Her contention is that these things are not fine, and that transhumanism is a virtuous middle ground between the two extremes. That it is better at solving existential despair than straight humanism and traditional technology and that it’s better at solving the actual suffering encountered in this life than straight religion.
I think this is an interesting argument in favor of transhumanism, but I’m not sure how far I buy it. If someone told me that certain Mormons are too blase about suffering, I wouldn’t argue with them. But I can’t imagine anyone, after being told the story of the man who burned to death, shrugging and saying “it’s fine he’s going to be resurrected.” I can imagine them drawing comfort in the midst of their despair and sadness from their hope that he will be resurrected, but I can’t imagine them declaring that sadness is inappropriate.
Now one could certainly imagine that Mormons might be slightly less inclined to spend resources to minimize harm in this life. Particularly as you get to the further ends of the spectrum, that is large amounts of resources for increasingly smaller harms. For example if we ever conquer aging, such that people are immortal, but can still get into accidents, then you could imagine those immortals becoming increasingly concerned with even the rarest kinds of accidents, and you could further imagine religious people, who believe in an afterlife, not, for example, wanting to spend billions of dollars and millions of man-hours to take the chances of an airplane crashing from 1 in 20 million to 1 in 21 million. Particularly if there are other places to spend that money and time.
All of which is to say that, as with so many things, there are trade-offs, which the presenter does a good job of pointing out, but as I have argued from the beginning, they frequently point out the pros of this tradeoff without giving much thought to the cons. If I may be so bold, I think one of the MTA’s arguments is that they can spend all this time focusing on the technology side of things (the T in the MTA) and be just as good a Mormon as everyone else, if not better (the M in the MTA). And my argument has always been that at a minimum there may be sacrifices they’re unaware of, and that, very likely, this focus creates a warping of the central Mormon Theology into something different. Which takes us to the third presentation.
The title of the third presentation was “Being Christ in Name and Power” and it was largely about how the presenter viewed the role of Jesus. And it was a great example of the ideological warping that, in my opinion, comes from too much focus on the T part of the MTA. The first part of the presentation was dedicated to showing that the title of “christ” was used a lot more broadly than just to refer to Jesus. That since “christ” basically means “one who is anointed” that historically Jewish kings and Jewish priests and even Cyrus the Great all got the title of “christ”. From this he basically comes to the conclusion that Jesus was just one of many “christs”, and that we should aspire to be one of the “christs” in the same way that the ancient kings and priests and even Cyrus the Great were.
Leaving aside, for the moment, whether this is an accurate reflection of the gospel, let’s examine why the presenter might have come to this conclusion. Transhumanism involves taking a lot of the things that most Mormons (and for that matter most Christians) expect to be done by God and Jesus and instead doing them ourselves. If these things are reserved to God and Jesus than taking them on is, at best, misguided at best and, at worst, heretical. On the other hand, if we’re all supposed to be “christs”, if we’re all anointed to take on the work of salvation, up to and including, figuring out how to resurrect people( and possibly even beyond that) then taking on all of the transhumanist projects is enlightened and orthodox, more orthodox even than the main body of the church.
When speaking of the presenter’s ideas, it’s possible that his very broad reading of who could be a “christ” came first, and that his interest in transhumanism came second, but I suspect it’s the reverse. That he started with the transhumanism and then broadened his interpretation of LDS scripture looking for ways to justify the things he was already inclined to do. I suspect it’s this way because it’s a very rare human who doesn’t work this way. For my own part, I come to this discussion with a more pessimistic view and the way I read the scriptures is going to be similarly biased by that. And you, dear reader, are going to have to account for my declared bias and the presenter’s suspected bias, and decide for yourself which interpretation makes sense.
With that out of the way we’re finally prepared to examine the merits of his argument. Which, as I said, begins with a broadening of the definition of “christ” and from there proceeds to the conclusion that we should be a “christ”. He suggests that we should do this in two different ways: that we should be Christ in name and that we should be Christ in power. He then gives several examples of being Christ in name which I mostly have no objection to. And then he gives several examples of being Christ in power. He says we need to love, console, forgive, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and raise the dead. This is an excellent list, and, really, I think the only aspect I disagree with, is how much of a role technology should play. But let’s start by looking at where we agree.
I don’t think anyone argues with the idea that we should become more Christ-like, that we should try to love as he loved, console as he would console, and forgive exactly as he would forgive. Further, everyone seems to agree that part of taking on his name consists of joining his Church, which carries his name, and which is where we are reminded of his commandments. Successfully doing all of these things comes from choosing a Christian morality and following a definite set of ethics. In short from choosing to be righteous.
In other words, being the kind of person who can be as forgiving as Jesus (which is super tough by the way) is, as far as I can tell, 100% about our morality and 0% about the technology we possess. Even healing the sick, if you believe at all in the power of prayer and priesthood blessings, comes about through the power of faith, with a definite dependence on our righteousness. It’s really only the last item on the list, raising the dead, where suddenly, at least according to the transhumanists, faith and morality aren’t enough, where you really want to bring technology into play. (I would contend that you can raise the dead with enough faith, merely that it requires a level of faith and righteousness which is exceedingly rare.)
To be fair, the presenter mentioned feeding the hungry and clothing the naked as examples of technology, but we don’t produce food because we intend to feed the hungry, we produce food to feed ourselves and make money (queue Adam Smith). It’s morality not technology that leads us to share it with the hungry. Meaning our list is all things we can accomplish almost entirely by just being more righteous, until we arrive at the last item. Where we transition from acts where morality is the critical component, to something where you don’t need much morality, but you need an awful lot of liquid nitrogen.
All of this stems from the idea that we are all christs of a sort, and to a certain extent, I, and most people in the church, I imagine, agree with this. But when that extends to ditching morality for (or even hitching morality to) technology, that’s where the disagreement starts. And my discomfort only increases when you combine all this with downplaying the role of Jesus. Which takes things even farther away from, what I believe to be, foundational LDS doctrine. As an example of what I mean consider this quote from Joseph Smith:
The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.
And there are hundreds of similar quotes from other LDS Church leaders. Including Jesus himself saying:
I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
I’m sure the MTA has a way of fitting all of this into their favored interpretation, but I think the plain reading (and coincidently, my presentation on AI) indicates that Jesus is critical to the entire thing, that his status as Christ is a difference not merely of degree, but also of kind from what we are being asked to do. Particularly when it comes to the atonement. The importance of which the presenter went out of his way to minimize as well. Mentioning, that it was only used in the New Testament once to refer to Jesus’ atonement and that every other time (69 in total) that it was talking about “other christs performing other atonements.”
There are people who believe that Jesus has done everything and that there is nothing left for us to do. People who believe that salvation is entirely through the grace of God, and that our works have nothing to do with it. I don’t claim to be any expert on this branch of Christianity (is it fair to classify everyone that’s in this category as a Calvinist?) But insofar as my assessment is correct (and I know there are nuances that mostly get missed) I certainly have my objections to this ideology, and if that’s the ideology the MTA was objecting to I’d be totally on board, but instead the MTA appears to want to take the opposite side of that dichotomy, and rather than the grace of God doing everything they want the technology of humans to do everything.
This is the spot where in previous discussions, someone from the MTA will show up and quote this part of their affirmation:
We believe that scientific knowledge and technological power are among the means ordained of God to enable such exaltation… (emphasis mine)
And, yes to be fair, they probably don’t expect humans to do everything, but they certainly appear to want humanity to do more than any other christian religion, so maybe they’re not all the way to the edge, but they have claimed the territory which lies closest to it.
My original intention was to devote only part of this post to the conference, and here I am almost out of space and I’ve only covered the first three presentations. Accordingly I’ll skip to the end and briefly cover the last presentation because in some respects it illustrates the danger of the entire project and indeed of most such projects.
This final presentation was a criticism of the how God behaved historically, specifically in the Old Testament and the Book of Mormon. But also bringing in the Hindu gods and the Hellenic gods. From this, concluding that he wanted to “design” a “good” God. He contended that this design was particularly important because we definitely end up with gods one way or the other, and recently we have replaced the cruel and warlike gods of history with gods of distraction and consumerism.
The presentation called on people to worship better gods, gods who aren’t racist, gods who don’t “privilege male over female”, gods who have “compassion over bloodlust”. And I understand the appeal of this, and I have all the sympathy in the world for the presenter’s personal faith crisis which led him to this point, but either God exists or he doesn’t, and if he does we need to figure out what he wants from us, and do it. And any attempt (of which the final presentation is just the most blatant) to impose our own values on God is just delusional hubris.
I’m sure there’s some of that delusional hubris in me as well (and of course if there is no God the entire conference was delusional), and it’s certainly possible that I’m wrong about everything (and not merely in this post.) But I would end by urging everyone to focus more on righteousness than technology, and more on understanding what God wants of us than in making demands of him.
I never make demands, I prefer to cajole, wheedle and beg. Speaking of which, have you considered donating?
Saturday, April 7, 2018
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On the same day as this post goes live, I'll be at the annual conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association (MTA). You may remember my review of last year’s MTA Conference. This year I'm actually one of the presenters. I suspect that they may not have read last year’s review (or any of my other critical articles) or they may have just not made the connection. But also, to their credit, they're very accepting of all manner of views even critical ones, so perhaps they know exactly who I am. I don't know, I never got around to asking.
The presentation I’m giving is on the connection between AI Risk and the LDS Plan of Salvation. Subjects I covered extensively in several past posts. I don't think the presentation adds much to what I already said in those previous posts, so there wouldn’t be much point in including it here. (If you’re really interested email me and I’ll send you the Google slide deck.) However my presentation does directly tie into some of the reservations I have about the MTA and so, given that perhaps a few of them will be interested enough in my presentation to come here and check things out, I thought this would be a good opportunity to extend what I said in the presentation and look at what sort of conclusions might follow if we assume that life is best viewed as similar to the process for reducing AI Risk.
As I mentioned I covered the initial subject (the one I presented on today) at some length already, but for those who need a quick reminder or who are just joining us. Here's what you need to know:
1- We may be on the verge of creating an artificial superintelligence.
2- By virtue its extreme intelligence, this AI would have god-like power.
3- Accordingly we have to ensure that the superintelligence will be moral. i.e. not destroy us.
Mormons believe that this life is just such a test of "intelligences". A test of their morality in preparation for eventually receiving god-like powers. Though I think I'm the first to explicitly point out the similarities between AI Risk and the LDS Plan of Salvation. Having made that connection, my argument is that many things previously considered strong arguments against, or problems with, religion (eg suffering, evil, Hell, etc.) end up being essential components on the path to trusting something with god-like power. Considering these problems in this new light was the primary subject of the presentation I gave today. The point of this post is to go farther, and consider what further conclusions we might be able to draw from this comparison, particularly as it relates to the project of Mormon Transhumanism.
Of course everything I say going forward is going to be premised on accepting the LDS Plan of Salvation (more accurately, my specific interpretation of it) and the connections I'm drawing between it and AI Risk. Which I assume many are not inclined to do, but if you could set your reservations aside for the moment I think there’s some interesting intellectual territory to cover.
All of my thinking proceeds from the idea that one of the methods you’re going to try as an Artificial Intelligence Researcher (AIR) is isolating your AI. Limiting the damage a functionally amoral superintelligence can cause by cutting it off from its ability to cause that harm, at least in the real world.
(Now of course many people have argued that it may be difficult to keep an AI in a box so to speak, but if the AIR is God and we’re the intelligences, presumably that objection goes away.)
It’s easy to get fixated on this isolation, but the isolation is a means to an end not an end in itself. It’s not necessary for its own sake, it's necessary because we assume that the AI already has god-like intelligence, and we’re trying to keep it from having a god-like impact until it has god-like morals. Accordingly we have three pieces to the puzzle:
What happens when we consider those three attributes with respect to humans? It’s immediately obvious from the evidence that we’re way out ahead on 3. That humanity has already made significant strides towards having the ability to create a god-like impact, without much evidence that we have made similar strides with attributes 1 and 2. The greatest example of that is nuclear weapons. Trump and Putin could separately or together have a god-like impact on the world. And the morality of it would be the opposite of god-like and the intelligence of the action would not be far behind.
Now I would assume that God isn’t necessarily worried about any of the things we worry about when it comes to superintelligence. But if there was going to be a concern (perhaps even just amongst ourselves) it would be the same as the concerns of the AIRs, that we end up causing god-like impacts before we have god-like morals. Meaning that the three attributes are not all equally important. I believe any objective survey of LDS scripture, prophetic counsel or general conference talks would conclude that the overwhelming focus of the church is on item 2, morals. If you dig a little deeper you can also find writings about the importance of intelligence, but I think you’ll find very little related to having a god-like impact.
I suspect at this point, I need to spell out what I mean by that phrase. I’ve already given the example of nuclear war. To that there are a whole host of environmental effects I could add, on the negative side of things. On the positive side you have the green revolution, the internet, skyscrapers, rising standards of living, etc. Looking towards the future we can add immortality, brain-uploading, space colonization, and potentially AI, though that could go either way.
All of these are large scale impacts, and that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. Things historians could be discussing in hundreds of years. LDS/Mormon doctrine does not offer much encouragement in favor of making these sorts of impacts. In fact, if anything, it comes across as much more personal and dispenses advice about what we should do if someone sues us for our cloak, or the benefits of saving even one soul, or what we should do if we come across someone who has been left half dead by robbers. All exhortations which apply to individual interactions. There’s essentially nothing about changing the world on a large scale through technology, and arguably what advice is given, is strongly against it. Of course, as you can probably guess I’m talking about the Tower of Babel. I did a whole post on the idea that the Tower of Babel did apply to the MTA, so I won’t rehash it here, but the point of all of this is that I get the definite sense that the MTA has prioritized the impact piece of the equation for godhood to the detriment of the morality piece, which for an AIR monitoring the progress of a given intelligence ends up being precisely the sort of thing you would want to guard against.
As an example of what I’m talking about consider the issue of immortality. Something that is high on the Transhumanist list as well as the Mormon Transhumanist list. Now to be clear all Mormons believe in eventually immortality, it’s just that most of them believe you have to die first and then come back. The MTA hopes to eliminate the “dying first” part. This is a laudable goal, and one that would have an enormous impact, but that’s precisely the point I was getting at above, allowing god-like impacts before you have god-like morality is the thing we’re trying to guard against in this model. Also “death” appears to have a very clear role in this scenario, insofar as tests have to end at some point. If you’re an AIR this is important if only for entirely mundane reasons like scheduling, having limited resources and most of all having a clear decision point. But I assume you would also be worried that the longer a “bad” AI has to explore its isolation the more likely it is to be able to escape. Finally, and perhaps most important for our purposes, there’s significant reason to believe that morality becomes less meaningful if you allow an infinite time for it to play out.
If this were just me speculating on the basis of the analogy, you might think that such concerns are pointless, or that they don’t apply we replace our AIR with God. But it turns out that something very similar is described in the Book of Mormon, in Alma chapter 42. The entire chapter speaks to this point, and it’s probably worth reading in its entirety, but here is the part which speaks most directly to the subject of immortality.
...lest he should put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever, the Lord God placed cherubim and the flaming sword, that he should not partake of the fruit—
And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.
For behold, if Adam had put forth his hand immediately, and partaken of the tree of life, he would have lived forever, according to the word of God, having no space for repentance; yea, and also the word of God would have been void, and the great plan of salvation would have been frustrated.
But behold, it was appointed unto man to die...
At a minimum, one gets the definite sense that death is important. But maybe it’s still not clear why, the key is that phrase “space for repentance”. There needs to be a defined time during which morality is established. Later in the chapter the term “preparatory state” is used a couple of times, also the term “probationary state”. Both phrases point to a test of a specific duration, a test that will definitely determine one way or the other whether an intelligence can be trusted with god-like power. Because while it’s not clear that this necessarily the case with God. With respect to artificial intelligence, once we give them god-like power we can’t take it back. The genie won’t go back in the bottle.
To state it more succinctly, this life is not a home for intelligences, it’s a test of intelligences, and tests have to end.
It is entirely possible that I’m making too much of the issue of immortality. Particularly since true immortality is probably still a long way off, and I wouldn’t want to stand in the way of medical advances which could improve the quality of life. (Though I think there’s a good argument to be made that many recent advances have extended life without improving it.) Also I think that if death really is a crucial part of God’s Plan, that immortality won’t happen regardless of how many cautions I offer or how much effort the transhumanists put forth. (Keeping in mind the assumptions I mentioned above.)
Of more immediate concern might be the differences in opinion between the MTA and the LDS Leadership, which I’ve covered at some length in those previous posts I mentioned at the beginning. But, to highlight just one issue I spoke about recently, the clear instruction from the church, is that it’s leaders should counsel against elective transexxual surgery, while as far as I can tell (see my review of the post-genderism presentation from last year) the MTA, views “Gender Confirmation Surgery” as one of the ways in which they can achieve the “physical exaltation of individuals and their anatomies” (that’s from their affirmation). Now I understand where they’re coming from. It certainly does seem like the “right” thing to do is to allow people the freedom to choose their gender, and allow gay people the freedom to get married in the temple (another thing the LDS Leadership forbids). But let me turn to another story from the scriptures. This time we’ll go to the Bible.
In the Old Testament there’s a classic story concerning Samuel and King Saul. King Saul is commanded to:
...go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.
But rather than destroying everything Saul:
spared...the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.
He does this because he figures that God will forgive him for disobeying, once he sacrifices all of the fatlings and lambs, etc. But in fact this act is where God decides that making Saul the King was a mistake. And when Samuel finally shows up he tells the King:
And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
I feel like this Biblical verse might be profitably placed in a very visible location in all AIR offices. Because when it comes down to it, no matter how good the AI is (or thinks it is) or how clever it ends up being. In the end the most important thing might be that if you tell the AI to absolutely never do X, you want it to absolutely never do X.
You could certainly imagine an AI pulling a “King Saul”. Perhaps if we told it to solve global warming it might decide to trigger massive volcanic eruptions. Or if we told it to solve the population problem, we could end up with a situation that Malthus would have approved of, but which the rest of the world finds abhorrent. Even if, in the long run, the AI assures us that the math works out. And it’s likely that our demands on these issues would seem irrational to the AI, even evil. But for good or for ill, humanity definitely has some values which should supersede behaviors which the AI might otherwise be naturally inclined to adopt, or which, through its own reasoning, it might conclude is the moral choice. If we can accept that this is a possibility with potential superintelligences, how much more could it be the case when we consider the commandments of God? Who is a lot more intelligent and moral than we are.
If we accept the parallel, then we should accept, exactly this possibility, that something similar might be happening with God. That there may be things we are being commanded not to do, but which seem irrational or even evil. Possibly this is because we are working from a very limited perspective. But it’s also possible that we have been given certain commandments which are irrational, or perhaps just silly, and it’s not our morality or intelligence being tested, but our obedience. As I just pointed out, a certain level of blind obedience is probably an attribute we want our superintelligence to have. The same situation may exist with respect to God. And it is clear that obedience, above and beyond everything I’ve said here, is an important topic in religion. The LDS Topical Guide lists 120 scriptures under that heading, and cross-references an additional 25 closely related topics, which also probably have a similar number of scriptures attached.
Here at last we return to the idea I started this section with. I know there are many things which seem like good ideas. They are rational, and compassionate, and exactly the sort of thing it seems like we should be doing. I mentioned as one example supporting people in “gender confirmation surgery” and the example of pressing for gay marriages to be solemnized in the temple. But we can also see if we look at AI Risk, in connection with the story of King Saul, maybe this is a test of our obedience? I am not wise enough to say whether it is or not, and everyone has to chart their own path, and listen to their own conscience and do the best they have with what they’ve got. But I will say that I don’t think it’s unreasonable to draw the conclusion from this comparison that tests of obedience are something we should expect, and that they may not always make as much sense as we would like.
At this point, it’s 6 am the morning of the conference where I’ll be presenting, which basically means that I’m out of time. There were some other ideas I wanted to cover, but I suppose they’ll have to wait for another time.
I’d like to end by relating an analogy I’ve used before. One which has been particularly clarifying for me when thinking about the issues of transhumanism and where our efforts should be spent.
Imagine that you’re 15 and the time has come to start preparing to get your driver’s license. Now you just happen to have access to an autoshop. Most people (now and throughout history) have not had access to such an autoshop. But with that access you think you might be able to build your own car. Now maybe you can and maybe you can’t. Building a car from scratch is probably a lot harder than you think. But if, by some miracle, you are able to build a car, does that also give you the qualifications to drive it? Does building a car give you knowledge of the rules (morality) necessary to safely drive it? No. Studying for and passing the driver’s license test, is what (hopefully) gives you that. And while I don’t think it’s bad to study auto mechanics at the same time as studying for your driver’s license test, the one may distract from the other. Particularly if you’re trying to build an entire car, which is a very time consuming process.
God has an amazing car waiting for us. Much better than what we could build ourselves, and I think he’s less interested in having us prove we can build our own car then in showing that we’re responsible enough to drive safely.
I really was honored to be invited to present at the MTA conference, and I hope I have not generated any hard feelings with what I’ve written, either now or in the past. Of course, one way to show there are no hard feelings is to donate.
That may have crossed a line. I’m guessing it’s possible with that naked cash grab that if there weren’t any hard feelings that there are now.