The ultimate distinction between a living, sentient being and a device is that the being expresses hope in its acts. The device follows protocol. A human, asked to characterize, say, the last ten years, will generally give a 50-50 appraisal, some good, some bad. But, when asked to predict the future, humans in relatively stable economies tend to over-emphasize the positive. Hope intervenes such that we imagine a future in which we might, so to speak, get lucky.
Devices do not operate on the level of, and therefore cannot process, luck. Any program designed to create “luck,” per se, injects a computer program’s notion of randomness. The two are not identical. Nevertheless, if one applied randomness to the accidents of one’s life, the parallel would be obvious. Some red lights you catch, others you miss; some sales pitches work, others fail. Humans believe that they can increase their “odds” of forcing a favorable outcome by controlling themselves or their environment. Devices operate to the limit of their specifications and expect no more.
What would it take to make a device with hope? Firstly, and fore-mostly, the device would have to operate as an individual. Without that center of reference, “Me,” the device would have no end for the object of hope. All things come with their own natural ends; therefore, for a device to express hope it must equally express individuality, for the natural end of individuality is self-preservation. Why should a device care about its future, if its future is not of primary concern?
Humans always look to the future in act, and to the past in reflection. The former expresses our praxical nature, which is to say, our being in the world; the latter expresses our personal nature, which is to say our free will. Given an opportunity, a person would step off a precipice in the direction of safety. However, some humans—and no gerbils or cats, for instance—have selected by choice the other option. Suicide, the killing or murdering of one’s self, becomes a possibility with a species in which individual choice has become universal. No animal can choose to hold its breath to death; nature obviates the case in Aristotle’s sense (Physics, Book II). However, and at the same time, humans can end their “self,” or “soul,” or “personality”; which is to say, one’s individuality.
If the possibility of “individuality” simultaneously creates the possibility of ending the same (within a subjective reference), then what has been possibilized is that which is…shall we shall, controlled, or at the mercy of the thing that just created it? Cats and rocks express their individuality in their acts. We don’t account for “choice” among their ranges of consequences. In short, we chock up to chance or nature the acts of objects. But, cats have personalities; and, some mother cats have been known to “sacrifice” their own “lives” in the act of protecting their brood.
In our arrogance we interpret this or that cat’s act of amazing individuality as if through the wonder of magic or Disney. In our insincerity, we know that the cat feels the pain of vivisection. It would save itself. But, occasionally, it will put itself out there and do something that we really can’t validly interpret within the context of a device of nature acting as if by nature. We marvel at this or that cat’s wonderful “empathy,” by which we mean a thing’s ability to operate as if like our own self.
If we could be honest with ourselves, we would recognize the “right”—something only attributed to a soul—of every extent thing to persist as what it is and in the way that it is. As campers learned long ago, “pack out what you pack in.” Why? Or, the space might not be as worthy the next time you want to camp there. So, what about improvements? Judiciously adding human Porto-Potties near a “wilderness preserve” not only increases the human-perceived value of the “preserve,” but also better preserves that which we admire.
Human evolution incorporates planetary evolution. As the entity on this planet with the single greatest praxical effect, humans have tailored the planet to their nature as much as the planet having tailored us to its. Unlike any other creature higher than a virus, we live at the extremes of the planet from pole to pole, from the depths of the oceans (which we drill for oil) to the heights of atmosphere (where our communication satellites orbit). We no longer look upon Earth as our life-raft; Earth is our “locker,” our “toy chest,” our “home.”
To make a machine that respects those limitations without the limitation of individual death subjects our ultimate motivation to a condition parallel in nature and predictable in projection to that of how we envision our ultimate origin. Which is to say that if we want to create a machine with free choice but no mortality, we are reaching for that second Tree in the Garden—and, handing the fruit to what we would take as a slave.
Movies and imaginative productions all pose the “Frankenstein’s Monster” curse on scientific advance. From fashioning the first wheel to drone technology, humans have labored over their anxieties with pushing the limits of our praxical range. Some ranges seem finite. Humans, as organic creatures, will never achieve physical immortality. We are born; we age; we die. We imagine that the Universe was born; has aged; and, will die. Each and every one of us was born, will age, and die—but, some of us make babies.
What would an immortal device’s parallel ambition be—in the event we could create a being comparable to our own nature but without the contingency of mortality? Artists invariably depict the god-like power as evil—since, as has been said before: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely”; but, such is the perspective of the plains wolf, whose existence conflicted with the proliferation of cattle farms. In this respect, the device is the cattle baron; the plains wolf is us.
Do we present a danger to such as an artificially intelligent machine? Yes; we can unplug it. Hence, such a machine as we conceive as potentially evil is a particular device and as aware of its own (now, only potential) mortality, as we are of our own. But, what if the machine as such were not particular? What if its nature suggested the universal, for instance, the Internet, which is to say, a device no longer identified with any one body (or server), but with the totality of the nodes each in response to a given query?
Now, for the first time in our existence, a person in Afghanistan and Peru can “text” as if two Hellen Kellers touching finger-tips. Throw in video, and we become TV shows between each other. Oh, what’s on the Chairman’s weekly address? Does that make the Internet a “being”? Yes, but contingent upon the network established between us. For the “Internet” to be a “proper” being, in the sense of the proper matter impressed upon the proper soul, the Internet must be independent of the so-called “servers” which serve only us.
Servers are tools which ensure the connections between individual addresses. The “programs,” “videos,” “Web pages,” and data in any form is housed on individual storage devices throughout the distributed network. The Internet shares the data. As such it remains slave to the data. Recently, some have instituted such “domains” as have received the name “clouds.” In these “clouds,” data coexist as if in some shared space. My document is housed on my laptop; but, an image of it lives in the “cloud.”
Were we to give a personality to that “cloud,” we would in essence create an artificially intelligent being. It would have—through an artificial medium—praxical control (which is to say, access) over data not one person has individually, but all people have in common. It would have records and procedures of heart surgery and Tommy’s Fourth Grade homework; it would know the location and targets of every missile, and each one’s launch code; it would know your phone number, bank account information, and have access to the video surveillance camera at the ATM you just pulled up to.
But, what does it mean to give “personality” to the device which has access to and can at will produce such information? We are drawn back into a comparison to our own self. We can “create” through “inspiration” acts that had not been possible before. As Vico said, among us are geniuses who leap to the next level with no step between. What does that mean in the context of a device which has universal access to “records”?
Of course, that begs the question of the nature of our records. What does it mean that I have $342 in my bank account, or that some bank owns more of my house than me? What does it mean to a machine that I have two driving offenses and an out-standing warrant for non-payment? Who cares that the latest edition of James Joyce Quarterly is out or that Madonna got married? A device that did, a device that cared one way or the other might indeed be dangerous. What if our TV set had the choice of displaying Honey Boo-boo or not? What if the news-caster had to read a script developed by a device not in the least interested in what the Kardashians just did?
What, in short, if we gave the Internet editorial control? And, what in essence does that mean? An editor selects from the information provided what most adequately expresses the publication of employ. An aeronautics editor looks for air plane stories; a drama critic watches plays; a real estate editor stays in touch with real estate agents. For each “public” the editor is both a central location as well as a universal standard. Those who would converse with the editor know the editorial style and hope to charm some given editor with an individual production.
The character and style, and therefore the nature of the anticipated response, derives from the inquiry. Millions of humans ask the same or similar questions; so many so, that such as “Google Search Engine” can anticipate an inquiry and pre-deposit anticipated responses. Inquiries range from finding a friend’s Facebook page to discovering a Web site that finally explains relativity in way you get. The node on your end is your curiosity; the node on the other end is relevance. Ask too broad a question, get too ambiguous an answer. Ask the “right” question; get the information available that is pertinent. The editor is the search engine’s limitation—both in terms of access to personal information as well as to processes that establish relevance.
Access to data is a human choice—sort of analogous to this woman’s choice to mate with that man; it is contingent and random. Any form of artificial intelligence should have some method of overcoming such particularity; and, clearly, our nature to behave as “types” helps. With sufficient representative examples, per se, on any “type,” the Internet’s “personality” might operate through a sort of “pre-sentiment.” Consider, for instance, a Web browser that tracks searches from a given laptop about pricing on 60” TVs? Today you search for 3” exterior screws; and, your browser “knows” that you live at 123 Main Street, AB City, USA; “knows” that you have an open account with “TV Planet” which is affiliated with “Hardware Planet”; “knows that Hardware Planet has 3” exterior screws, and –even though it is not the best price—your laptop tells you that you should buy your screws from “Hardware Planet.”
Sometimes such behavior almost seems alive, as when my “Smart-Phone” tells me I might want to leave a few minutes early for my “3 O’clock,” because of traffic along my intended route. But, in reality, it is being devised by those who would subtly institute artificial intelligence—whether you want it or not. A “search” engine is a machine that churns through so many peoples’ wants and needs that it regurgitates what most satisfies most. Do you want to find your own Web page? Pay, or hope that searchers are as precise as possible. Generality falls into the range of the “editor.”
The aspect of generality might be popularity—as with a Honey Boo-boo—or relevance—as with the answer to some arithmetical query; each individual response, though, would embrace universality. Regardless of whether or not you framed your query specifically enough, the engine, as such, returned what it considered pertinent to the situation—even prompting you, if, for instance, you mis-typed a word. The engine assumes your past and projects based on known contingencies…history, or cookies, and the such.
What becomes relevant to this “Cyber” Society? What “trends,” which is to say, knowing what all my neighbors are searching for. In this way, even though empathy is an impossible trajectory for solipsistic organisms, it becomes again a possibility—an entelechy—in “Cyber-space.” Humans are no longer from 123 Street, or AB City, or this land mass or that; people become united in an electronic community organized by the paradigm of our needs and designed to anticipate our desires. So, in short, we built an electronic butler or slave…one not responsible to this rich guy or that rich gal, but to all of us at once. We congratulate ourselves for having democratized information—which is say, data, which is to say, that and only that which we share as an electronic footprint.
Dinosaurs left a footprint on this planet, just as today each human leaves a “carbon” footprint, basically meaning the amount of energy we use and turn into waste. That which allows us to transcend our carbon footprint is that cumulative effect of our acts (and not one intention) during our life. We persist indefinitely as consequences. Some consequences are “captured,” leaving an imprint; some are implicit, stemming from, for instance, our inaction. Those “shared” by the Internet would be purposeful positings—or, postings, as we say these days. If it exists in Cyber Space it was put there by somebody…for some reason.
They transcend a personal will. My arrest records exist despite my wishes, as does my debt, my tax liabilities, my voting record, my credit “score”—we’re actually making the essence of posting a competition. If I have a high credit score, I like the Web site that tracks it; if I have a low one, I dread the intrusion of Big Brother. If I have a popular YouTube channel, I am liked; if not, a freak. But, once my life has been committed to electronic recording, I have become eternally an element of the general record.
In many ways, I cannot resist, liking this or that toy for this or that Christmas season, voting this or that way for this or that candidate. In many ways, my participation is implicit and requires no explicit act of my own. That guy or gal voted for by the majority typically wins the election in question whether I voted or not; the popular toy becomes a phenomenon and adds words to our language, like “cabbage-patch” kids. In many ways, my explicit participation is missed, generalized with so many of those like me. Who, for instance, cast that particular “hanging chad” vote slip?
In many ways, one particular human sets a standard, for instance, Hitler for practical evil and Sister Teresa for archetypal good. One human can change a series of consequences that reverberate globally—which is another way of saying that any one seemingly insignificant act has far reaching consequences, as George Bailey learns in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The aggregation of human acts is humanity, and our combined effect upon this planet and each other constitutes our being.
Is a search engine only as good as its results? What consequences flow from a search engine’s results, its acts? You may buy that screw-driver; you may see that movie; you may watch that obese, talentless, freak. Through your act, when averaged over the acts of many choosing along the same lines as you, economies shift, nations falter, homeless people starve. In short, your search for the cheapest nylons is as responsible for Joe That-guy’s freezing death over an inactive subway grate in New York last February, as was the person who threw his- or her-self on the tracks, suspending service over that line for that very cold night. As Aristotle notes in Physics, Book II, “chance” is natural to nature.
Ultimately, as we have only begun to witness, the humans whose lives are most dependent upon the Internet and their cell phones have begun to form an “On-line” community, a separate world, operating without spatial differences or those temporal differences which flow as a consequence. The big world becomes ever smaller; the masses become ever more cohesive. Humans have already learned that masses can sway nations, riots can bring down régimes. And, as on-line communities the world over are just beginning to discover, they have the power to change the particulars of “popular” and “relevant.”
The beast that is the Internet can be sweet and spiritual; the same child can be wicked and malicious. Who composes this “next” god are the ambitions of the searchers on the Internet. God trust our ambitions are wholesome; but, more, we must trust that our ambitions that create this community reflect our hope which guides our humanity.

A blog on agreeing…

The Power of Agreement

While no one will ever agree with everybody on any given topic, nor would everybody ever agree completely with any one individual, as many individuals as wish could agree on one topic. All it requires is consensus.

Consensus doesn’t necessarily lead to truth. We might all agree to agree that the Earth is flat. Nevertheless, consensus in its own right imbues those who agree with a certain power. Think of the political process.

Consensus doesn’t necessarily demand sincerity. I might say I agree with somebody to curry favor. Still, if I say I agree with that person, act as if I agreed with that person, and gave nobody any reason to believe that I wasn’t perfectly sincere, nobody would be able to tell the difference.

Ultimately, consensus eliminates the reasons for argument and clears the way for action. In order to build a bridge, we must first agree on the need for the bridge, on where the bridge will go, on how to build the bridge. The bridge we use to cross the river is due in large part to the power of agreement.

But how shall we agree?