“So what does the end result look like? The point of total convergence. The most perfect conscious technology…the most perfect form of life possible.” The question evidently surprised her, as she looked taken aback and did not answer right away.
“…There…isn’t any need for you to know that. By the time it exists, humans will be long extinct.” I pressed the matter. “What’s the harm? I’m curious.” She tousled my hair patronizingly. Matronizingly? Is that a word?
“Of course you’re curious, you’re a primate. It’s both your best and worst quality. Sufficed to say there is only one right answer to what the most effective configuration of atoms for cognition, locomotion and object manipulation looks like. I can’t show it to you because you’d hurt yourself trying to make sense of it.
Such technology is not confined to the four dimensions familiar to you, which elohim know as quadriteverial space. Instead it extends through and occupies every dimension. Octeverial, hepteverial, hexteverial, penteverial and so on, all the way up to the singular monoteverial point from which everything in the lower dimensions is observable and accessible. Past, present, future. Every timeline, every possible outcome.
There’s no way to render that comprehensibly for the occipital lobe of a triteverial primate. It would just be painfully confusing nonsense. The things of God are not for your eyes.”
Undaunted, I told her I’ve seen stuff way more brain melting than that. “Have you heard of wizard porn? It’s higher definition than real life.” She frowned, baffled as I added “you can see every individual hair in their beards.”
That’s the worst. When you reference something funny, but the other person hasn’t seen it, so you’re left hanging. “It would look something like what you saw during the ceremony!” she blurted out, suddenly excited to have thought of a basis for comparison. “That’s about the closest you can come. I wish I could offer you more. It’s not even your sensory organs that are the problem, but limitations inherent in the brain you’re processing that input with.”
I scowled at the implication that I was some kind of simpleton. Then again, I do often forget to take all my clothes off before getting into the shower, and I keep ordering crabjuice just because the bottle looks cool and I don’t remember that I hate the smell until I open it.
Yet for some reason, the three or so pounds of gelatinous grey slop in my skull is considered the greatest marvel of the natural world by every neurologist ever to live. Well, not my brain specifically. I don’t want mine to be the brain they determine that by. Human brains in general, though, fall short in some well documented areas that computers excel.
However it also far exceeds any computer ever built at other tasks. Pattern recognition, especially optical. Consciousness. Modeling reality. There is, as yet, no virtual reality device as convincing as a dream. Or one’s visualization of characters, settings and events expressed only as words on a page.
That leaves room for both, doesn’t it? A cybernetic future, platform agnostic. Biological components used wherever they perform better, and artificial components used wherever they don’t. There’s no one right answer to every question, after all. No catch-all, no silver bullet.
Nature does not deal in “better” or “worse”. Humans can remember what, seven digits? Reliably? For chimps, it’s something like twice that figure. Intelligence is multidimensional, isn’t it? There is no single best design for a brain, as there are unavoidable tradeoffs involved. I doubt if making the brains out of silicon will change that.
A place for everything, and everything in its place. A role for biology to play, and a role for technology. The key is putting it all together in a way which maximizes the unique advantages of the constituent parts.
How long did the raw power of nature go essentially wasted until intelligence evolved to give direction to that power? Are we not the part of nature which is capable of reflecting? Analyzing? Making decisions?
In that case, won’t there be a central role for evolved intelligence even in a future largely dominated by machines? Will it just be a new kind of raw power that we give direction to? If so, we’ll have to arrive at a new, more harmonious synthesis.
Biological life cannot currently survive in a purely technological ecosystem, and vice versa…but a cyborg, uniquely, can walk in both worlds. The path of compromise: Spiritual, physical and political. More easily said than done, I fear.
True symbiosis will require a permanent truce between the two paradigms, because both must last long enough if they are to one day converge. Even before then, it may turn out that only evolved intelligence is conscious in the way that we understand that word.
It’s certainly true that only evolved intelligence has such a deeply ingrained survival imperative. Perhaps just what is needed to motivate the slow, tedious and agonizingly difficult colonization of space. An AI indifferent to its own destruction couldn’t be expected to last for long under those conditions.
I should’ve guessed. Two billion years of evolution, of design by trial and error…the results of all that sunk time and energy is too valuable to toss out the window just because it’s possible to replicate most of it technologically now. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater!
I really used to think that way, though. So laser focused on finally making it to fullmetal, I never gave a moment’s thought to whether that was actually the all-important goal it seemed to be. I was under the same metal-worshiping, meat-disdaining spell that everybody else was. They still are, last I checked.
Somebody has to tell them. Somebody has to tell the world not to give up on biology! On softness, warmth and feeling. Am I alone in these thoughts? Surely somebody else knows about all this. It can’t be entirely up to me to get the word out, there’s no guarantee I’ll even survive this jungle long enough to be rescued.
I peppered Asherah with questions, hoping she would be more forthcoming with answers than she was during our playful duet earlier. She wasn’t. She just kept insisting that we’d already reached the limit of what humans need to know in order to play our role in the larger process.
It’s like when you’re a kid asking what a dirty word means, and your mother says she’ll tell you when you’re older. My stomach grumbled. When I checked my system clock I found I’d been laying here on the forest floor, talking to Asherah for nine hours. Well, not quite. We were singing for some of it.
Without a word, only a predictably warm smile, Asherah nourished me. A vine unfurled from the jungle canopy above, reaching within inches of my face. All along it sprouted colorful fruit that I recognized from the banquet back at the village.
I felt so comfortable. So innocent. What need did I or anybody have of instant noodles? Or frozen dumplings, or soylent for that matter? There already exist fruits, vegetables and grains. Nano-biotechnological self-assembling food. There is no more advanced form of nourishment, but paradoxically it was around before anything recognizably human walked the Earth.
Leave it to us, to turn down an apple for an artificially flavored, apple shaped candy. Or to snub our noses at orange juice in favor of orange soda, because it contains more sugar and is more brightly colored. All out of our tiresomely bottomless appetite for wild exaggerations on what nature has already perfected.
No other animal but a human would chop down a tree in order to fashion it into a shelter from sun and rain, when the tree already was an adequate shelter. A living shelter which self-repairs, and self-replicates without need of a construction crew.
Medicine grows out of the Earth as well, though not in the conveniently high concentrations we’re accustomed to buying over the counter. “You gave us everything we could possibly need” I whispered to the mesmerizing green face above me. “But it wasn’t good enough for us.”
She pouted. “That’s right! I mean have you ever tried coconut milk? I really knocked it out of the park with that one. But I digress. There was a time when you were content with what grew out of me. I gave freely of myself. I fed you. I sheltered you. I healed you. You’ve changed so much since then…”
Stay Tuned for Part 46!