Brushes and Briars

I cannot figure out if the correct title of this rvw song is “Brushes and Briars” or “Bushes and Briars”. Ah well. Here’s Jodie and I singing it from a couple of weeks back, a vid I forgot to add to the blog at the time.

Brushes and Briars

Identity: It’s in the I of the beholder

The consciousness debate in futurey circles is a tar baby like no other. I got a little involved in such a discussion today, in reply to this article, actually a nice piece on consciousness by Robin Hanson). My position, though, is a bit odder than that of the usual pro or anti teleporting crowd. Here’s the transcript:


Oh god, the consciousness debate. Kill me now!

There is *no global solution* in the question of what identity is. I’m pretty sure it’s entirely subjective; ie: you are what you believe yourself to be. That leads to the interesting possibility that you can maximise your chances of survival by modifying your concept of self toward the most practically maintainable form that you can bring yourself to accept.

That is, it is in all of our interests to find a way to believe in uploading!

Fredrik Bränström:
What?! 🙂 That simply does not compute. My constitution does not redefine itself according to my beliefs. The placebo effect might make a difference in what I can accomplish or how well my body works, but I can’t believe you believe it somehow renders me something categorically different than what I was before. I know people who seem to get a kick out of thinking the mind is more than the sum of the parts of the body and their organization, but I didn’t think you were one of them.Only if the organization is perfectly respawned and maintained in the medium of the upload can it be considered a clone. Not that I necessarily would wan’t to shoot my biological originator when it’s done, I’d probably like having two selfs around. The upload version would be shaped by its environment and by itself, of course, so it would diverge from me as soon as it was activated. Technological enhancements being made available to entirely digital souls would probably enable even more fundamental incongruity. Not that I think it would bother either of us.


Well, what I’m talking about is the “all copies are me” people, who would happily turn off the meat version of themselves, versus the “only I am me” people, who will talk about an upload of themselves as a copy who is a different, albeit similar person. This latter is the camp that you are in, and the camp I tend toward.


The debate between these sides regarding consciousness is intractable; I’ve seen it repeat endlessly on the extropian list, as an example, over maybe more than a decade now. Both sides are convinced they are right, but somehow cannot communicate that to the other side. Which is odd, because these are highly intelligent people…

So we must come at it from a different direction, and I would do that by asking, what are you actually trying to do, when you talk about massive life extension / uploading / etc? What is it you are trying to preserve?

Are you trying to preserve your actual physical embodiment? My intuition says no; uploaders clearly don’t care, and life span extenders I think only see it as a means to an end; I think if you offered them a robotic body that was immortal, they’d go for it (with the proviso that “their consciousness” must be “transfered” into it, perhaps).

So are you trying to protect your memories? Probably that’s not sufficient, in that you would not be happy with a static dump of the neural networks which comprise your memories, archived for all time – that’s not “me”.

Perhaps you are the information pattern encoded in your brain, or the extended pattern of information encoded in your brain & body? That’s actually what some of the uploaders believe (who don’t care about subjective consciousness), although they would also argue that they need runtime, a static copy is not enough.

So the uploaders seem to believe they are the information pattern (state) plus process; algorithm + data + runtime.

And then there is the subjective consciousness camp. This camp says we are data + algorithm + process + something else, some ineffable thing, subjective consciousness. The first person sense. A thing that works in terms of qualia. (btw this can’t be the “running process”; you can suspend processes, write their state out to persistent storage, archive them, and kick them off again later, fork them; is it still you if you are backed up and kicked off multiple times on different, virtualised hardware, with a gap of years in between?)

And this camp, of course, rejects uploading / copying as useful but not sufficient; an act of procreation rather than salvation.

It seems like the compelling position, but think about the problems with it.

First, a materialistic world view admits no room for subjective consciousness. We can imagine intelligence existing and functioning perfectly well without it. It is by definition the non-functional stuff, given that a person in this camp would reject any copy only including the functional stuff, they are not uploaders after all. So this camp is stuck with requiring some form of dualism.

Second, it is undefinable. What is this subjective consciousness stuff? where is it? how does it work? How can I define it operationally in any useful way? It makes the bogometer ping uncontrollably, occam’s razor twitches in anticipation!

Thirdly, it doesn’t hold up to critical examination. If I am some mysterious runtime property, where do I go during deep sleep? Is it the same me when I wake up? What about if I am dead for a few minutes, and revived? What about if my copy was running on a von-neumann machine? I would attribute consciousness to it if it were a good enough copy, but then it is subject to virtualisation, task switching, archiving, all that stuff, so how does its subjective consciousness handle that?

To me it seems intuitive that a copy of myself, running on a digital computer, could be task switched, archived and restored, virtualised, and I’d notice nothing (except the clock jumping forward for the archive and restore).

Fourthly, increasing amounts of brain science tell us that we are not some single, indivisible being, an atomic consciousness, but a multitude of parallel parts, including some mechanism of consciousness whose job it is to maintain the illusion of control while having little or none. We make our decisions many seconds before being aware of them. Our most treasured mental events are insights, ideas of brilliance, whose origin we cannot derive, they just appear in a flash (ie: they come from a part of your mind which is not part of your subjective consciousness). We have a stream of thoughts which just seem to come to us, which we lay claim to as being a deep part of our selves, yet which again have no derivation; it is really the conscious part of ourselves is listening to a speaker, which broadcasts this stream from elsewhere. The deep, essential parts of ourselves are actually inaccessible to us. So what is our self, if it is not these things?

My point is that the subjective-consciousness-centric approach is deeply flawed. Yet it’s extremely difficult to reconcile that with how we *feel*. Warning bells yet? This is the sign of an artifact of deep evolution. It’s a thing which is the heart of our survival instinct, the need to survive, but that mechanism, however it works, is a tool of our ancient genes. The deep old things our genes tell us to do aren’t necessarily the right things to do. They also tell us to commit violence, to lie cheat and steal, to act on irrational feelings pretty much all of the time. There’s a place for all that, but you should always have a relationship of “frenemy” with your genetic programming 🙂

And, with that, is opened an incredible can of worms, which is that, if I am not the data, or the data + the algorithm, or the data + the algorithm + the process, or the data + the algorithm + the process + spooky consciousness, then what am I? For I am something, or else I am nothing.

This is the core question of identity; what is identity? People have been thinking about this for thousands of years, and we get no closer to an answer. I find that the deeper you think about it, the harder it is to escape the conclusion that identity, the most central stuff of existence, is entirely illusory.

So you can descend into a pit of nihilistic despair, but I don’t recommend that, it’s no fun at all.

Or, you can say, well, I, illusory as I am, want to be. But, being an illusion gives me a certain freedom, no? I can bind myself up in worrying about being a subjective consciousness, or I can relax and just be the pattern of myself. Either way, the universe knows I am full of shit, and cares not at all.

If you talk to the uploaders, you’ll see they *really* *do* *believe* that a copy of them *is* *them*. It is possible to hold that belief, and in the near future that’s going to be one hell of a superior memeset in terms of functionality. So you need to find a way to believe it. Just remember there is no objective truth on this one, it’ll help 🙂

Identity: It’s in the I of the beholder

Black Black Black

Black Is The Colour
Singing at the kitchen table

Jodie and I just performed at a KADI benefit, a lovely afternoon. There were a lot of performers; a few solo singers, a couple of gorgeous little kids playing piano, two choirs (The Prospect Singers, which Jodie conducts and I sing with, and Just For Fun, a choir Jodie used to conduct). And, of course, the spectacular Sudanese people singing, dancing, and playing the Djembe, some of them with babies tied to their backs, bouncing along to the incredible music. They’re locals, and man, they rock. I wonder how we can get to do something musical with them in the future?

Jodie and I also did some 2 voice a capella pieces, including Black Is The Colour. I’ve included a rehearsal recording of Black Is The Colour. It’s a bit lo-fi as usual, but just between us, I’m pretty happy with it.

Black Black Black

Singularity Dot Points

borg cube

  • I suspect that the engine of progress in the world has been competition, rather than capitalism per se. Competition occurs in many contexts, money based competition being only one, and probably not the best one. Academia is a great example of an old reputation competition.
  • I need a word for a set of competitions; we usually have sets of partially overlapping, partially substitutable, and competitions which are actually in meta-competition with each other for the hearts and minds of competitors.
  • Competition has a bad name because of money competition, which is brutal. But competitions, even the natural selection type competitions of ideas that occur between individuals and groups online, can be overwhelmingly positive in terms of experience for competitors and overall outcome.
  • I think there are better ways of defining value than “what someone will pay”, but I don’t know what they are.
  • I suspect that the western job-based economy is severely ill suited to the new realities of our world. I think if we were to actually put together success criteria for it, we would find it fails them, and is heading away from them at speed.
  • I suspect that money based economy doesn’t scale, or that it does, but not in a way in which it can actually continue to do its job, ie: the best allocation of scarce resources
  • I think we are heading into a future of more and more population, and this should be a good thing. People are the best thing the universe ever invented. But, we are trapped in a political, social, economic system which can’t make use of them, so they look like dead weight. In reality that is failure to scale.
  • I suspect the new networked world is showing us glimpses, in the social networks and various examples of crowd sourcing, of how to make a massively scalable social/political/economic system, one which improves with every mind you add to it. One in which 9 billion people are vastly preferable to 6 billion, and 12 billion even more so, and so on.
  • I suspect that the above is mathematically provable, using tools similar to what economists use.
  • This requires some real work.
Singularity Dot Points

Rose & Silver

One of Jodie’s choirs, the Woodville Concert Choir, has a major performance tomorrow. They had a bush poet doing, well, bush poetry, but he’s come down with swine flu and cancelled. So, I’m the ring-in.

Now clearly I’m no bush poet. The theme is Aussie Christmas, though, so I’m doing something Aussie. Two songs, the first is Shelter by Eric Bogle, a lovely song.

The second is a song I wrote (with Jodie’s musical assistance) a few years ago, 2005 I think, called Rose & Silver. It’s about a small town that’s been absorbed into the sprawl of a major city, and lost its identity. I was directly inspired by Nairne, a once-town-now-suburb out east of Adelaide, and I drew on my memories of living in actual country towns as a kid.

Here’s a pretty lo-fi run through we did of the song tonight:

I made the chords and lyrics available under a CC license here.

Rose & Silver

The Networked Singularity

Augmented RealityThis is a recent post of mine on the extropians list, in response to a query about how people see the singularity panning out. (AI = Artificial Intelligence, IA = Intelligence Augmentation, ie: augmented humans)


2009/11/16 spike:>>
> On Sun, Nov 15, 2009 at 6:20 PM, spike wrote:
>>>What I do mean is this: what is your mental picture or roadmap, however
> fuzzy, to the singularity?

I gave the roadmap a shot. It’s a rambling mess, but see how you like it.

Singularity Roadmap – The Borgularity (IA)

– The network of minds is the thing.
– AI wont be significant probably, IA will outstrip it. There are no
decent feedback loops for AI. We assume AI can self augment, but
that’s an incredibly difficult problem. Prior to that, it seems to be
lots of disconnected research in lab like environments. Any feedback
that does occur will be entirely dependent on and a secondary effect
of the network of minds, as below.
– OTOH, we have a single network of human level intelligence, where
all kinds of facets of intelligence are the determining factors of
fitness. eg: communication skills, raw insight, excellence in narrow
– The global network is the mega olympics of the mind, but instead of
running every four years, it’s run every day. We wake, we join the
network, we compete, eventually we sleep.
– The object of competition in the mega olympics of the mind is attention.
– The mega olympics of the mind has a bewildering array of
competitions. Open source sound codecs? Pro-am manga art? Youtube
Origami demonstration? etc to something resembling infinity.
– It’s mostly a meritocracy, with reputation for hysteresis. But that
hysteresis is small; you can’t easily rest on your laurels, because
the games begin anew each day.
– Any competition which attempts to introduce too much reputation
hysteresis (winners try to hold onto their position) gets outflanked
by closely related but more nimble substitutable competitions.
– Attention is the new money. It is the important resource. ergo, you
cannot ignore the mega olympics unless you can live a life of original
affluence (need very little attention). Just about no one can do this.
Those who can are invisible, and accept that the games go on without
– Every interesting innovation on the leadup to the IA singularity
relates to the mega olympics of the mind. Some will relate to being
able to reach further (eg: better software, better tools for search,
data management, community forming and enablement). Some will relate
to being able to be present more often (mobile devices, mobile
notification, laptops in bed and on the toilet, the ubiquitous
network, nodoze). Some will relate to just being mentally better than
your counterparts (nootropics, ritalin, personal semi intelligent
– The money economy will continue to collapse, as more capital finds
it more difficult to find a home. Industries based in digital
information will continue to collapse financially, while the actual
job they are doing, the function they play, is continually enhanced.
eg: newspapers, music, books, movies, coming up are science and
universities, health.
– Home factory production, ie: rapid prototyping’s descendants, will
cause a whole new swathe of industries to implode financially. Again,
the jobs they were doing will now be done better.
– People want to participate, the best people want to participate
best. Look to more people (and disproportionately more of the
important people) looking for ways to live with less and less money,
and less commitments related to gathering money, in order to
participate more fully.
– Less people will be needed to do the important things; the network
is a labour multiplier and labour devaluer (in monetary terms). The
mega olympics of the mind will continually find the best and brightest
and multiply the products of their efforts for the whole world to use,
while reintroducing those products back into the next round of the
– Any technologies which make non-information things behave like
information will prosper.
– Any technologies which help people more easily meet their minimum
living requirements will be taken up en-masse, especially by the best
and brightest. Free information products are already passe. Automated
and/or subsidised provisions of free power/food/housing/clothing/money
will find their foothold a strong one. These all reduce the requirement
to compete for and do pointless work for pay, and increase
the time available to compete in the network.
– As an example, Google and its ilk are getting more into the power
business, because they consume so much. Could they begin providing
free power to communities as a good will effort in the future?
– Who will be the first to invent a unit you can stick in your
backyard which uses air and (solar?) power, grows bioengineered goop,
and processes it into either something directly edible, or feedstock
for sophisticated food printers? The same goop might be used to make
plastic parts/items, and maybe clothing? As far as food goes, the
early stuff doesn’t have to be special. The early adopters will be
internet ascetics.
– When will Blizzard open its first full service line of apartments;
basically bedsits with great network access and everything delivered,
for the truly devoted WoW player? Actually there are plenty who would
eschew deliveries for a drip & a catheter.
– What can you create as an implant (possibly biological), which takes
electricity and the air you breathe, and turns it into the energy you
need to live, removing the need to eat?
– Any technologies which minimize the need for sleep and other
downtime will be favoured. Expect to see the coming of the always on
netizen. Perhaps you already know someone like this?
– Just increasing the time available to be in the game is not enough,
you also have to be better than your contempories/opponents, or even
in a cooperative environment you have to stay above the rising tide of
competence of your collaborators. The trends in automated tools to
enhance your abilities will continue.
– The “smart phone” area will become wearable computing, which will
eventually include implants. Or, we may never get implants; technology
might get to be that good, that we can physically alter ourselves
without what we would now consider surgery, by the time we need it.
– The Apple iMind might read and induce mental states through the skull.
– We move at increasing speed. One of the most compelling requirements
will be to increase the speed with which we can interact. The games
will happen on a shorter and shorter span. I expect the end game of
the singularity to involve a speeding up, somehow (probably many-how)
of subjective time; we will experience hours as we now experience
days, then minutes as days, and so on. What will we use? Drugs?
Neurohacking? Offline processing providing by semi-intelligent agents?
In-skull implanted modules to provide extra memory or calculation
abilities or direct network access? But none of this can compete with
– The big data center companies (Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, etc) will
continue the computronium buildout. We will put more and more of
ourselves in there, until finally we can upload completely. Judging by
the success of our rudimentary modern online worlds, even when we have
crappy first gen uploading people will move there by their millions,
at least.
– The ever tightening loop, the reinforcing mega olympics of the mind,
with uploads, augmented humans, intelligent agents which are early
AIs, unintelligent but computationally mind numbingly powerful
automated networks of bots, with the reference timeframe speeding up
and the minimum height to ride markers of all competitions inexorably
rising, this will be the singularity.
– Resistance is futile! You will be assimilated! It will be awesome!


The Networked Singularity