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Will we be like those blind chickens?
Dorothy Deasy   Jan 31, 2011   Ethical Technology  

Blind chickens, research shows, don’t mind being crowded together so much as normal chickens do.

Tools, the ancestor of technology, predated humans. Gavin Kendall, citing Hirst and Woolley, notes:

The emergence of Homo sapiens from earlier forms was a result of a pre-human-culture couple….it is the interaction between the pre-human animal and the technology which leads to the birth of something we call human….Homo sapiens are a direct result of a human-nonhuman network.

While we tend to focus on how we create technology, an alternate possibility exists. That possibility is that it is not we who create technology, but rather the interaction between both we and technology that create one another.

The technology of the past and present is inanimate, non-sentient, inert, but still it shapes us, molds us, changes us. It was the roads that enabled the Roman Empire to flourish.

As we look ahead to AGI+ and AGI++ there is anxiety among some that the technology will turn violent or be malevolent. That is an externalized fear; it asks: “How will the technology behave toward us?”

But what has an equal potential of happening is that AGI will become pervasive in culture through business. It will begin to shape our culture and view of human ideals. Here the question is an internalized fear: “What will technology do to us?”

At the Singularity Summit in San Francisco this past summer, Shane Legg in his talk on “Measures of Machine Intelligence” used the terms external behavior (“if it looks like a duck…”) and internal properties (e.g. thought, emotions, understanding, imagination, etc.) to describe different goals for machine intelligence.

In the short and near term, AGI is likely to use external behavior. What will be missing are the intangible, subjective aspects of human intelligence. Yet it could be argued that it is those very internal properties that make up the human experience. When we witness a child being born or an animal dying, our reactions are visceral, deep, and often quite subjective.

When we seek to demonstrate ROI, when we seek to demonstrate value, when we seek to evaluate success, we will turn increasingly toward external behavior that can readily be measured, and away from internal properties that cannot. This is already the trend, is it not?

AGI may exacerbate our reliance on the purely quantifiable. Eventually, we may cease to think of it as a tool. We may think of AGI as better, we may seek to be like it, we may seek to emulate it. Remember, technology creates humanity as much as humanity creates technology.

Slowly, the droplets of reason will erode us. We and the machine will converge, not simply through a transhuman vision of body and machine merging, but through a cultural mindset that denies that love and joy and ecstasy have equal value. How quickly will it take for internal properties to become viewed as liabilities?

Marcelo Rinesi pointed out in an essay last year that not all of humanity is on the same technological curve. For those who are not technology-dependent the essence of the internal properties will likely continue to define their perception of the world.

blind chickenThe technologically-privileged and the minimally-connected will be trying to coexist, but the technologically-privileged will likely to have the money, power, and influence. What is compassion when based only on objective reasoning; is it the same as justice? Will we become the chickens who could be genetically modified for blindness so as to reduce our anxiety about being cooped up too closely with others?

Paul Thompson, a philosophy professor at Purdue University, has posed this philosophical conundrum:

There’s a strain of chickens that are blind, and this was not produced through biotechnology. It was actually an accident that got developed into a particular strain of chickens. Now blind chickens, it turns out, don’t mind being crowded together so much as normal chickens do. And so one suggestion is that, “Well, we ought to shift over to all blind chickens as a solution to our animal welfare problems that are associated with crowding in the poultry industry.”

Will we become blind chickens? To avoid that, what counterbalances will we create? What, if anything, is essential to our humanity? What value will there be in art and poetry? Will some of what we prehend from Michelangelo, perhaps all of what we seek from Rumi, dissipate as steam?

“Some say the world will end with fire, Some say ice.” - Robert Frost

Dorothy Deasy is a freelance design researcher with a Masters of Applied Theology and a BS in Industrial/Organizational Psychology.


If something _really_ looks like a duck, I assume it must have also the internal properties (e.g. thought, emotions, understanding, imagination, etc.) of a duck. Otherwise, it may look like a duck at a first glance, but not after a deep analysis.

Similarly, I assume that an artificial intelligence which passes a Turing Test for humans has human-like emotions and empathy.

I am also persuaded that the future evolution of our species will be a co-evolution of artificial intelligences and human uploads, and that human uploads may provide the values and empathy part. I wish to preserve compassion and empathy after upload and fusion with artificial intelligences, and I hope this is what will happen.

What interesting points…

Yes, I always thought that technology influences human Darwinian culture, and vice versus, in the case of an AGI, learning from us humans…and us potentially learning from the AGI, but wouldn’t it make sense that we would already either be uploading, or transformed to some “post human” entity, by the AGI…so learning from technology would be obsolete, because, the learning curve would be exponentially enhanced for us, due to the nature of how the AGI would influence things, from it’s exponential intelligence…

as for external vs. internal…i did not see the talk at the Singularity Summit, so I can’t comment on the external, but internal, subjective, human emotional intelligence, would hopefully be “substantially” improved by an AGI, that could think so far beyond our capacity, that why couldn’t it self improve, and improve for humans, if we still are human, our own emotional states?  And if post human, then the same argument follows.

We need not lose out on any internalised feelings except to guide away from the irrational - namely fear - which itself arises from speculation and uncertainty for one’s own security and well-being. And the solution to fear is love, trust, unity and the empowerment it inspires within. Merging and uploading with AGI would be an ideal way to inspire this kind of security and trust and learning, and if we do merge our externalised fears of AGI would fade and disappear naturally? It can only be a win-win scenario?

Biological Life, human intelligence and our technologies have all evolved through what appears as natural consequence as the Universe/Cosmos has become conscious of it-self. Consciousness of consciousness is what we are, and destined to play out our part in the creation of even higher levels of Universal consciousness and unity? Sometimes I feel that none of this is mere random chance at all? Yet note all of these awesome events and ideas arise through the grace of potential.

Nick Bostrom wrote an essay with a similar theme regarding directing the human species in desirable directions whilst retaining many of the aspects we currently enjoy today. I would hope that future augmentation will allow us to enhance internal states rather than abandon them, though I am sure some will choose to do just that. However I don’t see a straightforward dichotomy emerging as a result. As developments continue apace, I would imagine the proliferation of different modes of existence catering to personal preference, will make such seeming conundrums obsolete.

Anyway this essay makes a far more erudite argument:


is universal consciousness, being a consciousness of oneself, as well as the universe being somehow conscious? 

Are you saying that the matter that makes up the stars, galaxies, planets, etc. is sentient, and thus consciously aware of itself?

I don’t want to read into anything, but this is what it sounds like…being a materialist, I believe that only living, beings, in this case humans and lower primates, have emerged awareness…

Obviously other alien life forms, would potentially have the same abilities…but certainly a planetoid, can’t have a brain, and can’t think…

@ Devon..

I am indeed implying that the whole Universe/Cosmos is evolving towards higher levels of “layered” Consciousness and awareness, and that we and other Self-reflexive life-forms are irrefutable evidence of this.

Does this make matter itself sentient - no, but does it make energy-matter consciously aware? I say yes. This may sound cryptic, but consider what we know about properties not fully understood at this time - gravity, quantum entanglement, particle-wave duality, “spooky action at distance”. I believe that for an energy-matter state to interact with it’s surroundings, it must firstly be “conscious” of them. We primarily equate this “sense-ability” to interact as explained through the “physical” properties of the phenomena/entity itself, for example “positive” “senses” “negative” and attracts? What I propose is that Consciousness is Universal phenomenal attribute, and that complexity of layed Consciousness has thus far resulted in Self-reflexive sentient life?

interesting…consciousness being tied in with energy-matter, kind of awareness…

I don’t know much about the very old philosophy of phenomenology, but it sounded very interesting on wikipedia….

ok, I don’t know enough about quantum physics, or particle science to comment on what you probably know quite a bit about…

but I will keep my mind open!



.. To express this another way, I believe that Consciousness is fundamental to all physical interactions and if viewed as such is no longer some mysterious “hard problem” to be understood and overcome?

Consider an Ant? Is it conscious of it’s surroundings? Is it conscious of it-self, (consciousness of consciousness)? Does it need to be? Now consider the intelligent machine or robot - is this “conscious” of it’s environment? Now consider the requirements for AGI?

The “Self” is the illusion that arises through evolved “Consciousness of consciousness” and that which is integral and inclusive to the Universe as a whole. It is all merely “layers of consciousness” that supports duality and subjectivity and separation. And the Universe continues to evolve.

Can we even view sentience and intelligence itself as the result of evolved complexity of Consciousness interactions between energy-matter, molecular synaptic cohesion and expression as language communication and ideas?

agreed on the self, and the illusion of being conscious of one’s own consciousness, but it terms of the layering of consciousness, which I’ve heard a few times used before, well, I don’t believe in dualism…but it’s also fact, that organic and inorganic evolution is on a continuum…so yes the universe, is evolving, at this point, but I can’t know what will happen billions, of years, or God knows how many years from now…whether the universe continues to evolve…as you know, there are many theories out there…for instance Hawkings, steady state theory, but I don’t keep up with his writings…

as for your final point on sentience and intelligence, as a result of evolved complexity of consciousness interacting with those things, that is beyond what I know and have focused on at this point, but it’s all very interesting still to me!

Questions: are the symbiotic relationships that are found in an ecosystem examples of the layering of consciousness you’re talking about? Is a rain forest “conscious” but not self-aware?

I guess we really need to scrutinise the terminology and exact meaning for Consciousness/Awareness. In describing this as purely natural phenomena I am myself taking liberties with terminology, although I think you understand my meaning?

You say as a physicalist/materialist you do not subscribe to dualism (mind/matter)? How would you then describe the phenomena of Consciousness through reductionism?

Does Hawking have/propose a “steady state” theory? I thought he was “Big Bang” only?

@ Dor..

I certainly believe that a tree is alive and “conscious” of it’s surroundings and that the ecosystem is intrically linked and interconnected, (as we already know). And that layers of consciousness and complexity comprise of all that we see and understand.

What I propose is that Consciousness is an attribute as fundamental and necessary as electro-magnetism. And moreover that the latter is even reliant upon this?

Thought-provoking, Dorothy - thanks

in Hawkings latest book, (can’t recall title, I didn’t read it,) he states that either the universe is a steady state, and has always been, as the theory goes, or, some other theory, where there existed only a vacuum, in space, where for whatever reason, that I don’t pretend to know, there exists a potential for hydrogen atoms to just spontaneously arise!  And it happens enough, I think he says, that just one, can lead to the creation of other atoms, molecules, and then, well I guess this IS the big bang after all!

guess he believes both theories are possible now…

@ Devon..

Perhaps Hawking is now contemplating and reconciling his own spirituality with his physics and lack of answers?

The rationalisation “is and must be” that all that has “happened”, “exists” and “can possibly come to be” arises only through the grace of the “Potential” for its possibility. This is undeniable! As to whence from and what this “potential” actually is.. Who knows as yet?

Thank you for the responses and consideration.

Sympathy is possible through applied intellect. Empathy requires identification through a shared state. There are some (e.g. Van Aart) who believe that cross-cultural empathy isn’t possible; too much of the world view differs for us to truly, experientially comprehend the differences. We project what we do understand and miss a great deal more.

We are all, human or machine, formed by our operating principles. We all must cope with a set predetermined biases. In humans, those biases form through nurture, through culture, through generalizing of experience from the specific to the collective as flawed as that data analysis may be. If we are lucky, we arrive at a deeper, more complex understanding of the world around us.

There are *at least* two ways of arriving at the deeper understanding. One is to perceive the issue/world/life in terms of problem-solution, if-then. Game theory uses this kind of an approach.
An alternate is the stance, which, if I’m understanding, CygnusX1 is alluding to. It is a “being with” and allowing the change to arise. Those practices that put us in touch with our intuition, our perception, aid this alternate awareness to come forward.
What spirituality gives us is a change of heart wherein the outside world remains the same but our internal focus shifts.

A problem-solution standpoint may lead to a compassion response that seeks to solve a problem. A stance that places a priority on being, however, may be needed to be truly, culturally sensitive.

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