Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Uploading, Self-Transformation & Sexual Engineering

What is the lossiness of the uploading process? Physically, are we uploading the function of hormones along with that of the neurons, neurotransmitters, etc? What about the thymus, pituitary, testes or ovaries, pancreas, digestive tract, sexual organs, etc.?

The point where psychology leaves off and irrelevant physical detail begins is not clear, and even the most intellectually motivated person may be irrevocably disoriented if these kind of biological processes and motivations are removed suddenly.

If we upload our neurons, and leave behind the hormones, does that give us 90% of our previous identity, or 10%? I don't think the answer is at all clear. Much as we take pride in our intellect most humans spend most of our time at the dictates of our hormones: eating, sleeping, seeking sex.

We might call the loss of biological substrate upon uploading the problem of dangling sexuality (so to speak :-), or more generally phantom biology, or phantom motivation. I refer to the phenomenon of "phantom limbs" in which pain etc. are felt in a limb even after it has been lost.

The big problem here is that an uploader may be left with no motivation at all. Why expand memory or CPU? Why search for better algorithms? Why explore the universe and put it to use?

Why not commit suicide or go hide in some archive until the universe ends? Without extropian motivations, there is no clear reason for or against doing any of these. And it's not just a matter if abstractly wanting to do these things; it's a matter of being hungry for them, of lusting after them, of falling head over heals in love with them.

Uploaders will likely face stiff competition: military/hacking competition from mature a-life and/or experienced uploaders, economic competition from evolving trader bots, etc.

If the uploader spends excessive CPU cycles simulating glands and hormones, recreating 3D landscapes and living out old sexual fantasies, etc. they may quickly go bankrupt. Depending on the rules of the uploader PPL, they may have their memory garbage collected and be filed away into a museum archive, may be merged into other consciousness (cf. proposal to auction off organs of bankrupt people in biological PPL), etc.

So even if the capability exists to simulate sexuality, hunger, taste for music, and other old dominant motivations in a minimally lossy way, competition may require these quickly be dumped overboard in favor of motivations that allow the agent to survive and grow in the new environment.

By the same token we can step back and examine what is valuable in our own environment, here today. We seem to live in an environment that is very forgiving wrt our forebears, and perhaps may be very forgiving compared to the world of a-life and uploader.

But is our own environment really that forgiving? Isn't it an incredibly great great loss when people die, for good, because they lack money for life extension and cryonic suspension, and do not make what might be called "semi-connected backups" (children, long-lived memes)?

Our current decisions and motivations are quite important, and even in today's environment biology may lead us astray. Consider the time we spend on work, recreation, entertainment, sexuality, eating, listening to music, etc. Do we do what is most extropic, or do we do what biology and culture have led us to want to do?

How can we transform ourselves into a more extropian state?

So, we see that the impedance of biology is not unique to uploaders; even today we can start the task of self-transformation from biological motivations suitable for a hunter-gatherer tribe, to extropian motivations suitable for today. Taking this a step further, this leads us to ways of avoiding a sudden change in connectedness upon uploading.

Well before we begin the physical process of uploading, we can begin the psychological process of uploading. This requires that we anticipate the uploader environment, and what it will take for us to succeed there, and transform ourselves in that direction even as we remain in our biological bodies. By the time we upload, we should be already well-transformed; psychologically prepared to do combat in cyberspace. Such transformation might include:

Fetish engineering: moving our sexuality away from biological and towards economic or information-resource triggers. We may be able learn from precedents (eg monks), but mostly we will be breaking new ground. Anti-aphrodisiacs or training on fetish objects with aphrodisiacs may help here.

Finding fetishes that suitably motivate abstract goals such as learning, life extension, child bearing and raising, expansion of the bank account, etc. may not be easy. Fetish engineering may be the most important and productive form of self-transformation, if we can pull it off.

Aesthetic shift: retrain ourselves to get aesthetic pleasure from technological or economic accomplishment, eg hacking good code or making a good deal in the market, and less from similar but less useful aesthetic pastimes like music or good cooking.

It may be necessary to develop very sophisticated tastes in music, cooking, etc. before such transformation is possible; or perhaps the opposite is true, that sophistication in music or cooking detracts from technological or economic sophistication.

It's important that we resolve these issues; otherwise we won't know whether we're transforming towards or away from a consciousness suited to our environment, or ready for uploading.

Thirst, hunger, satiation, and taste: In the uploader, these need to be linked to new resources: taste buds to sense, and software to respond to memory and CPU cycles and power sources instead of fats and proteins and carbohydrates. Today, many of us already find these biological motivations excessive, to the point of distracting us from intellectual tasks and even being downright unhealthy (eg overweight lowers life expectancy).

This suggests also empirical benchmarks, telling us how far we've progressed on the road from human to transhuman to posthuman. How much of our motivational energy, or more measurably how many hours per day, are spent chasing obsolete biological ends? How much are spent in ways that would be beneficial to an uploader? If we spend more of our time at the latter, we might truly call ourselves transhuman; if our schedule is dominated by what would also concern the uploader, then we have reached posthumanity.

All this may sound very cold & dry: trying to turn sophisticated biological & culture tastes into cold & abstract mechanisms. Far from it! The fact that we find the machines cold & abstract is a problem endemic to humans; the transhuman task is developing tastes for the new resources that not only rival our current _haute cuisine_, sexual skills and romantic subtleties, but go beyond them in both sophisticated elegance and raw powerful lust.

It may also sound quite perverted, engineering fetishes in place of "normal, healthy" sexuality. But we already live in a world where the genetic goal of sex is short-circuited by birth control, sex is perverted by pornography, brood-care perverted by pets and dolls, etc. Yesterday's perversion can be tommorrow's route to success or failure.

Political correctness, social norms, and our current personal tastes bear no relation to the outcome unless they have either emerged to a state of rationality, or been designed rationally -- and even then are subject to continual obsolescence as culture evolves around us. Putting these genies back in the bottle is futile.

The idea here is to sort out our perversions, to figure out which are extropic and which entropic, and use both perversions and self-discipline to transform ourselves into ever greater heights of extropy.

Nick Szabo

No comments: