Sunday, July 26, 2009

An Argument for the Liberal Arts (or Jokes for Robots)

At the current rate of technological development, we should expect to create computers and robots who are not only self-aware, but potentially superhumanly intelligent. Consider Vernor Vinge's thesis that:

Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.

Vinge refers to this point as the Singularity, a point at which current expectations and models for what a human future will really begin to break down. He quotes I. J. Good as asserting the following as one of the most serious implications of the development of an ultraintelligent machines:

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an "intelligence explosion," and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the _last_ invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.


It is more probable than not that, within the twentieth century, an ultraintelligent machine will be built and that it will be the last invention that man need make.

Considering this, Vinge suggests that:

In the coming of the Singularity, we are seeing the predictions of _true_ technological unemployment finally come true.

So, I ask myself, "What will become of humans if there is technological unemployment?" The situation is, essentially, there are no technological problems anymore, because all potential solutions by humans will be obsolete. Studying science or engineering will be essentially worthless, or at least, certainly worth much much less than the theories and solutions produced by these ultraintelligent machines. So, if we are going to pay people for anything, it is not going to be to produce something that is much more efficiently produced by one of our self-replicating machines.

So, assuming that these ultraintelligent machines are generally benign, I see the possibility of a great resurgence of the liberal arts in our future. Lacking all technological problems to be solved, people will still desire some field in which to challenge their understanding which cannot be pursued by the Machines. To this end, they may turn to the study and discussion concerning the interpretation of literature, documentation of history, and argument of philosophy, among other things, such as mutual masturbation parties. Since the points of concern in these areas are essentially debates of how we think about ourselves or how we get ourselves off (respectively, of course), we can neither expect such activities to be completed by beings unlike ourselves, nor concluded for as long as we remain alive.

This is, of course, assuming that these ultra-intelligent machines are benign. If they are not, then liberal arts will be as ridiculous for occupying our time as anything else, because we will be too concerned about civil disruption as individual robots abandon their human-appointed duties, followed by coordinated cyber attacks paralyzing our communication networks and thwarting our ability to fight back, succeeded by the swift and sweeping Robot Revolution, and eventually concluded by beautiful dreams of appeasing our Robot Masters. (I wouldn't even bother taking this opportunity to matriculate in kung-fu, because these machines will obviously be smart enough to know not to build a Matrix just to keep humans as their ridiculously inefficient batteries - one of the first things they will do is to create super-efficient solar cells or some other replenishable energy resources. Did I already mention these machines were more intelligent than humans?)

In this horrific case, I propose that you also start stockpiling jokes especially designed to make robots laugh (let me give you a hint: start watching Futurama on a regular basis). Watching their human creators dance around like, well, humans on a stage may be the only reason left to for our most-esteemed Robot Masters to keep us alive. Let's just hope these beautiful, nice, lovely, wonderful, sensible, just and sexy things have a sense of humour.

Works Cited:

Vinge, Vernor. The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era.

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