Who 'ya gonna call?

But where there are networks there is malware. Sue Blackmore a writer in the Guardian, argues that memes travel not just across similar systems, but through hierarchies of systems to kill rival processes all the time.  She writes, "AI rests on the principle of universal Darwinism – the idea that whenever information (a replicator) is copied, with variation and selection, a new evolutionary process begins. The first successful replicator on earth was genes."

The second replicator was memes, let loose when humans began to imitate each other. ... The third replicator is, I suggest, already here, but we are not seeing its true nature. We have built machines that can copy, combine, vary and select enormous quantities of information with high fidelity far beyond the capacity of the human brain. With all these three essential processes in place, this information must now evolve. ...

Replicators are selfish by nature. They get copied whenever and however they can, regardless of the consequences for us, for other species or for our planet. You cannot give human values to a massive system of evolving information based on machinery that is being expanded and improved every day. They do not care because they cannot care.

In such a Darwinian context the advent of an AI demon is equivalent to the arrival of a superior extraterrestrial civilization on Earth . In fact Steven Hawking listed both in the same breath. "Hawking said that, if intelligent alien life exists, it may not be that friendly toward humans." Superior artificial intelligence may not be friendly toward human beings either.  Whether it arrives in a flying saucer or escapes the Google labs the impact on humanity by "intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic" is serious indeed.

In any situation where contact between intelligences is possible what we call "demonic possession" would be the rule rather than the exception. Just ask Bryan Pagliano why he shut down Hillary's server. The computer revolution has once again provided the public with a paradigm for understanding age old issues after the 19th century's billiard ball-physics and materialism temporarily consigned them to the bin of superstition. For the first time in 200 years the public can address the concepts which "angels" and "demons" were meant to represent in a thoroughly modern way.  Just as the Italian Rennaissance rediscovered classical antiquity, so also may ancient spiritual ideas now be seen in the light of new knowledge.

The last century's insistence on materialism created a blind spot which made the 20th century vulnerable to monstrous memes. Elie Wiesel's recent death reminds us how destructive the practice of dismissing "good" and "evil" as mere constructs was. The administration's inability to utter the words "Islamic extremism"  is an artifact of the Left's obsolete commitment to cafe materialism and moral relativism.

Now once again serious people, if you consider Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steven Hawking serious, are saying that the ideas can have consequences.  Morality is suddenly a key concern of artificial intelligence research, not a mental disease affecting bigoted white males. Mike Loukides and Ben Lorica astutely observe that "most fears of a super-intelligent AI aren’t really fears of a machine we neither know or understand; they are fears about human nature at its worst, coupled with unlimited power. We don’t imagine a machine that thinks thoughts we can’t comprehend; we imagine an unbeatable Hitler or Stalin, whose thoughts we do comprehend. Our fears are essentially human fears: fears of omnipotent machines acting like humans."

If the watchword of the late 20th century was, "if it feels good, do it", the modern sensibility is "is it safe?" But the core fear must inevitably be that the archetypes of good and evil, what we conventionally refer to as God and the Devil, are real in a way that the 20th century never believed; and that at certain times we can experience them with a greater intensity than is conventionally believed. Even the assurance that consciousness cannot jump the air gap and consequently we cannot be "possessed" is under technological attack. The MIT Technology Review reported the award of 2 DARPA contracts aimed at using "brain implants to read, and then control, the emotions of mentally ill people".

Under the contracts, which are the largest awards so far supporting President Obama’s BRAIN Initiative ... Psychiatric implants would in fact control how mentally ill people act, although in many cases indirectly, by changing how they feel. ...

Such research isn’t without ominous overtones. In the 1970s, Yale University neuroscientist Jose Delgado showed he could cause people to feel emotions, like relaxation or anxiety, using implants he called “stimoceivers.” But Delgado, also funded by the military, left the U.S. after Congressional hearings in which he was accused of developing “totalitarian” mind-control devices. According to scientists funded by DARPA, the agency has been anxious about how the Subnets program could be perceived, and it has appointed an ethics panel to oversee the research.

There is very little reason to feel confident that no natural version of BRAIN exists; that Barack Obama can come up with something that nature can't. After all, nature built nuclear devices long before man walked upon the earth. In 1995 NASA discovered a naturally occurring laser in space. Our inability to solve the hard problem of consciousness strongly suggests that nature invented the computer long before Turing was born. Under those circumstances we ought to be careful about being certain what forms information can, and cannot take.

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