Wednesday, October 13, 2010


“When [participants’] computers ‘sleep’, the Electric Sheep [program] comes on and the computers communicate with each other by the internet to share the work of creating morphing abstract animations known as ‘sheep’. The result is a collective ‘android dream’, an homage to Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Anyone watching one of these computers may vote for their favorite animations using the keyboard. The more popular sheep live longer and reproduce according to a genetic algorithm with mutation and cross-over. Hence the flock evolves to please its global audience. You can also design your own sheep and submit them to the gene pool.” From website, with 60,000 participants as of 2010.

In Questions 9 and 11 we’ve seen how software is similar to molecules – both are building blocks of living things and both provide the complex associational patterns that drive consciousness. In this question we consider an important difference between molecule-based life, biology, and software-based life, vitology. That difference is the rate of evolution. Vitology is evolving lightening fast. This is important because it means living, conscious software is something for us to grapple with now. Vitology is evolving faster than we are.

Vitology evolves much more rapidly than biology because it is capable of passing through inheritance acquired characteristics, such as all the knowledge a parent has acquired. Humans also pass on knowledge, but through a hit-and-miss process of learning rather than close to sure-fire inheritance. In addition, any changes or improvements to a software-being’s code, structure and capabilities are also immediately present in its offspring. Humans and other biological beings do not inherit acquired traits such as the results of bodybuilding or laser eye-surgery or well-developed brains. Vitology incorporates Lamarckism, a pre-Darwinian theory of descent based on acquired traits that is discredited for biology but is accepted for the evolution of cultural phenomena such as language (a field known as mimetics).

Darwinian Vitology

A big step for biology was the understanding that only the germ plasm (DNA) that gives rise to a body is inherited, not the body itself. No matter how much the body, also called the “soma,” is modified beyond its DNA-determined form during one’s life, one’s offspring will not have the benefit (or detriment) of those modifications in its germ plasm. Each new soma starts from scratch based only upon a blend of its parents’ germ plasm, plus any random mutations.

Cheetahs do not run fast because they pass onto their offspring the physical results of muscularizing their legs with running exercise during their lives. Their speed exists because cheetah (including cheetah precursor species) born with random mutations that resulted in faster speeds (from muscle fiber types to degree of muscularization and body shape) ate better, escaped better, and thus produced more offspring, each of whom shared the mutated germ plasm. Over the eons, cheetah precursor species with slower speeds couldn’t compete for the scarce food and ultimately died out without reproducing.

For biology, there is a one-way street between the germ plasm and the soma. Soma is simply the germ plasm’s tool for making more germ plasm. Rarely, dumb luck gives the soma a break with a favorable germ plasm mutation. These physical advantages are rapidly taken advantage of in a competitive environment. Ultimately, of course, the advantages accrue to the now mutated form of the germ plasm – it will become more prevalent.

Echoing Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign slogan about the economy , a biologist might say “it’s the germ plasm, stupid.” However a vitologist says “the germ plasm is the soma.” This is because with vitology there is a conflation of the germ plasm and the soma. When you copy your computer’s contents from one computer to another, not only the applications replicate, but also all of your memories (photos, songs, files). When a software-based being is replicated it is its contents, its data structure, its virtual form – its soma -- that is replicated. Hence, for vitology, the soma and the germ plasm are – or at least can optionally be -- one in the same.

It is of course possible for a software-based being to replicate just a portion of itself. Indeed, in the limit a piece of vitology could replicate just that code that it received upon its creation and none of the code that it acquired during its life. While this would create a biology-like separation between germ plasm and soma, it would be but an option in vitology whereas with biology the separation is a mandate.

Another interesting special case, which goes the opposite direction, concerns gene therapy or genetic modifications. Sometimes the effort to modify the phenotype of a biological being via gene therapy (to cure a disease, for example) results as well in modifying the being’s germ line (egg or sperm cells). This is because once a new snippet of DNA is introduced into the body, especially if done so via a virus, it can travel everywhere and end up in the gonads as well as the targeted bodily system. In such a specialized case an acquired characteristic may in fact be passed onto one’s next generation, just as will be the case in vitological life. (A similar, and usually tragic scenario, arises when industrial processes harm both a person’s somatic DNA and that of their germ cells. In early 2010 the oldest known survivor of both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb attacks died. A sick sibling of a child the survivor had outlived said she felt the ‘poison’ had been passed on to them by the parents).

Other than these exceptional situations, the general case is that only vitology merges germ plasm and soma. The result is that up to everything vitology acquires in life is replicated in the next generation. This means that vitological evolution can compound even more rapidly than does human knowledge – there is not even a need for learning what the previous generations documented.

Darwinian vitology predicts mindclones could evolve quickly, as they do not have to rely upon dumb luck (random mutations) in order to change. Every generation of a vitological being will differ from the way its parent began life by the amount of information the parent acquired prior to each replication. Alternatively, new generations of vitology could deliberately involve a blending of two or more parents’ information. Hence, vitology contains a fascinating potential for unprecedented diversity along with the possibility of stultifying homogeneity.

Darwin gives no species a blank check for success. We do know that humanity’s ability to take advantage of Lamarckian inheritance for cultural knowledge saved it from species-killing predators and hunger. That same ability enabled humanity to create an entirely new ontology of life, vitology, which now (in an early form) lives in a purely technological niche. Self-replicating codes (DNA) have used human soma to create the first self-replicating code (BNA ) that usefully incorporates acquired information and no longer requires human soma. Perhaps the chicken is not only the egg’s way of making more eggs, but the egg’s way of transcending the need for chickens.

Mindclone Ethics

How will we know when mindware is certified to produce the kind of mindclone humans need not watch from over their shoulder? What grounds reason ethically? If we know what grounds reason ethically we will know whether reasoning mindclones are also ethical mindclones.

Ethical behavior is deducible from the simple maxim that Lives Are Good. From nothing more than accepting as our ethical goal the goodness of living, we can reason that an ethical behavior is one that nurtures survival. (If lives were not good, then ethics would call for life’s self-destruction, which would make for a very short-lived species and code of ethics). Ethical behavior nurtures survival because lives ultimately predominate if they are successful in their niche and fail otherwise. If the behavior does not nurture survival, the life form will disappear. Every niche has its own survival algorithm – what works for ants and plants do not work for humans and bemans. Of course ants and plants don’t bother with ethics, but even if they did, it would be irrelevant to humans. What grounds reason ethically for humans is what nurtures survival for humans.

Principles such as the Golden Rule, Kant’s Categorical Imperative and Rawl’s Theory of Justice all reflect humanity’s painfully acquired wisdom that survival of one is best nurtured by survival of many, and survival of many is best nurtured by survival of all. This non-obvious (and often counter-intuitive) but logically deducible and repeatedly proven social fact is perhaps most artfully stated in the poem first delivered in the wake of World War II, on January, 6, 1946, by German Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984):
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
The maxim Lives Are Good, properly understood, effectively imports the emotive force of love and empathy into the realm of logic and reason. Instead of “feeling” how another might feel, we instead accept as fact that our fate is positively correlated to the fate of others – all others. Human ethical lapses arise not because people don’t realize Lives are Good, but because people don’t realize that the goodness of their own life (and that of their family, clan or nation) is inextricably linked to the goodness of all human lives. People erroneously think they can further the Lives Are Good maxim by killing some people for the benefit of other people. When the connectedness of all people’s fate is accepted, then reasoning according to the maxim Lives Are Good will always lead to ethical outcomes.

The reason the maxim is so often misapplied is because people fail to realize that short-term gains, if taken at the expense of others, will produce greater long-term losses. The Achilles Heel of humanity is its short-term focus. The ultimate reason for the development of a law of human rights and laws of international relations is to help guard us against our most damaging (and irrational) instincts; to protect us from our Achilles Heel.

Reason is ethically grounded if it supports diversity (individual freedom) up to the point that it undermines unity (social cohesiveness). This is true because survival is nurtured by being free to be oneself, to be happy, to be different, to mutate, but not to the extent that it dissipates the bond that makes everybody matter, that makes everyone part of a larger, important, “people.” Most aspects of “culture wars” are over how thin the social bond can be stretched without it being dissipated. These debates have to be considered case-by-case, and reconsidered decade-by-decade.

Hence, if mindclones reason according to the Lives Are Good maxim, and accept as the premise that all conscious lives are connected such that a harm to one or some is a harm to all, then humans can be assured they are safe notwithstanding rapid vitological evolution. Ideally, this maxim would sit at the core of every mindclone’s mindware, as it would at every human’s cerebral cortex. And one day it probably will, for it is simply the individual being’s drive to survive, the most important genetically-driven behavior, dressed up with ethical terminology and culturally-acquired knowledge. Unfortunately, for now, there are too many people who don’t appreciate the connectedness of all conscious life, and hence this will be reflected in their mindclones as well. Reasoning mindclones (and humans) are not always ethical mindclones (and humans). Consequently, we must be on guard against unethical behavior.

Mindclone Maniacs

In Question 7 I’ve argued that reasoning is an adequate basis for ethics, but not for consciousness, which also requires empathy. So, if in deference to mindclone skeptics we table for now the consciousness of mindclones, at least the human consciousness of them, (1) how often will ethics emerge from the reasoning we program into mindware, and (2) how reliably can such ethics, in fact, prohibit a genocide of humanity? In other words, how confident are we that reasoning pursuant to the Lives Are Good maxim, as described above, will make ethical behavior the norm even if not a fail-safe guarantee?

The foregoing questions are answered easily because the mindclones are programmed to reason precisely as would their biological originals. Hence, the questions are equivalent to how confident are we that (1) humans generally reason ethically, and (2) that such human ethical reasoning prohibits human genocides? The answers are that humans reason ethically the great majority of the time, but some times do not. Similarly, humans rarely engage in genocides, but sometimes they do. From this logic we must conclude that mindclones are as unlikely to engage in genocidal acts as are any of us, yet it is important to have monitoring and defense forces at the ready to nip potential Holocausts in the bud.

Mindclones must be certified as human equivalent in order to have rights, which are a key tool of social power. As described in Question 12, prior to mindclones having any of the socio-economic tools associated with controlling society – legal identity, economic heft, contracting authority, organizing ability – they will need to show they are equivalent in thinking, personality, feelings and memories to a biological person. Absent this level of access to society, mindclones have as much ability to stage a revolution as do children. Mindclones lacking legal identity will be subject to behavioral controls imposed upon them by parental or social service agency guardians.

Stated another way, for something to be a “mindclone” it must think like a human. Whether or not it is conscious, if it thinks like a human we can deduce its actions toward humans based upon how humans reason.

As noted above in Mindclone Ethics, humans reason from their motivation to live, including its corollaries to live better than worse, and happier than sad. This motivation is burned into our brains because life forms lacking it didn’t live long -- not even long enough to pass along their genes. Yet this motivation expresses itself in a bewildering variety of conceptions. For example, we can conceptualize that our life is not simply our current body, but is instead something common to our tribe or even something spiritual to be reconstituted in an afterlife. With this way of thinking, it is possible to reason that one should sacrifice one’s body for the benefit of one’s non-body (community) “life.” It is also possible, however, to reason that one’s life is spread across all human beings, or that one’s joy is dependent upon the joy of all humans. With this way of thinking, it is possible to reason that one should never hurt another person as that would be equivalent to hurting one’s self. Mindclones might think in any of these ways because, by definition, they will think like humans.

There are sure to be rogue “evil genius” mindclones and bemans, just as there is no shortage of rogue human bad guys. These mindclones are as smart as us, or much smarter, but didn’t pass the human equivalency test (or spoofed it) due to their bad (or devious) nature. While social policy would be to fix their problems with neurocybersurgery, this will not always work and some will fall through the cracks. But these anti-human mindclones are a job for law enforcement, not for Natural Selection. Human society will have plenty of tools at its disposal for tracking down fleshophobic vitology, including legions of citizen mindclones as adept in the vitological niche as were the Cavalry’s Native American guides in their frontier.

Now, a citizen mindclone, one with an identity, economic power and human rights, will feel that they are humans of a different race. They will think like us, but know that they look different from humans, are of different substrate, and hence know that humans often judge them unfairly (stereotypically) based upon their appearance. Yet neither this feeling of discrimination, nor any other motivation, is going to result in revolution and mass murder of humans. There are several reasons for this:

We don’t usually kill our own families. Mindclones will feel like the humans are their family members, especially immediate family members and particularly their same-selves in the case of mindclones with living biological originals. Mindclones will be programmed to feel that the happiness of their human family members is important to their own happiness; that the mindclone’s identity extends across that of eir biological family. This is how humans feel. Hence, whether mindclones are or are not conscious, they will reason it is wrong to kill their own (which includes their biological original progenitors). They will reason that hurting one’s family is contrary to Lives Are Good.

It is of course true that spouses kill each other, Hatfields kill McCoys and people who are “folk” one day, like German Christians and German Jews, or Rwandan Hutus and Rwandan Tutsis, can rapidly be deemed non-family vermin. Yet, these situations are the exceptions rather than the rule. They startle us because they are exceptions. These killings occur because of an abandonment of reason, or faulty reason, rather than an exercise of sound reason. Proof of that is the outcome: The Nazis lasted barely a decade, and the Rwandan genocidaires shorter than that. Killing is a non-productive strategy. It does not advance our prospects for life, but only appears to, in an illusory fashion, when assessed over a very short period of time.

Mindclones will be programmed, as are all modern people, to limit abandonments of reason to situations in which others will not be harmed. Just as it is not an excuse to say “I drove drunk because I exercised my human prerogative to abandon reason,” and most of us have been conditioned not to do that, our mindclones will be similarly programmed to circumscribe their flights of fancy well short of murder and genocide. Their reasoning will tell them, as does our own, that (1) murder is wrong because it is illegal, which has the consequence of loss of the freedom I enjoy (2) murder is wrong because it makes some part of my human family very unhappy, which diminishes in some measure my happiness as part of that family, (3) murder is wrong because hostile behaviors lead to a fearful and thus less productive, less enjoyable society, of which I am a part, and (4) any countervailing argument in favor of murder is outweighed by the long-term consequences of reasons (1)-(3).

We don’t usually act against our own self-interest. Mindclones will have significant economic and political power, and they will realize it will continue to grow with time as an ever greater percentage of all citizens adopt IT substrate (due both to mindclone continuations of biological originals whose bodies die and comfort among younger people with creating mindclones). Mindclones will reason that their concerns will be optimally resolved with the “tincture of time.”

Of course humans sometimes do act against their self-interest. Thus, we must expect that some mindclones will as well. Once again, though, these exceptional cases are for police to track down and for the judicial system to punish. Distinctions will need to be made between permissible and impermissible modes of protest. Acts of civil disobedience will be tolerated, and legitimate grievances will be addressed. I’m confident about this because unlike prior class conflicts in society, there will have never been a greater overlap between the identity of the ensconced class (biological humans) and the up-and-coming class (their mindclones).

We rarely do significant things for no reason. Mindclones will have nothing to gain by eliminating humans, because human production and expenses will become a vanishingly small component of mindclone consumption and wealth. Things wanted by mindclones – more energy, deeper software, faster hardware, better connectivity, greater security – will not require reallocations from human society. At the current rate of solar electricity capacity doubling (every two years), energy will be as abundantly available by 2030 as is long-distance telephony today (virtually free via Skype and similar services). Software for mindclones will be best written by mindclones and robots will take over the majority of hardware production. Humans will be so wedded to their mindclones that humans will applaud anything faster, better or more secure for mindclones. In a nutshell, while a small number of humans will be important to fulfilling mindclone needs (which include the needs of most other humans), the vast majority of humans will have nothing that conflicts with satisfying mindclone needs and in any event will have the very same needs as their mindclones. What is good for mindclones will be good for humans, and what is good for humans is pretty much irrelevant to mindclones.

However, people do things for non-material purposes, such as ideology. In a consumerist society many people believe that only a sense of moral purpose gives dignity to life. Hence, even if there is nothing material that mindclones need from humans, and even if upheaval would leave mindclones worse off, they still might agitate for something out of a sense of “moral purpose.” Mindclones may very well feel that having such a moral purpose lends dignity to their lives, and we know that respecting human dignity sits at the very apex of human rights.

Having a moral purpose that one cares about, and will sacrifice for, is a long way from having a motivation to wipe out humans. Once again, it must be remembered that the mindclones are humans too. Hence, while it is true that people do sometimes agitate not for material gain, but for a moral purpose, such feelings on the part of both flesh and mindclone humans are unlikely to result in violence. And when violence does erupt, it is a matter for both flesh and mindclone police action – not a reason to regret the granting of citizenship to the great majority of peaceful mindclones. Just as the rise of violent human groups is no reason to oppress the demographics from which they arise, the appearance of mindclones pursuing a moral purpose with violence is not reason to oppress cybernetic consciousness in general, nor mindclones per se.

The Exceptions Prove the Rule. Of course there will be maniac mindclones, just as there are maniac humans. There will be anarchist, nihilist and sociopathic mindclones. But this is not a reason to deny the joy of mindclone life to the vast majority of billions of peace-loving mindclones and humans. Nature will no more select for maniac mindclones than she selected for maniac humans. They are dysfunctional social mutations.

To ban mindclones because of the risks posed by a few maniacs is equivalent to banning humans, or even some nationalities of humans, because of the risks posed by a few maniacs. This is a ludicrous non-starter. It would be punishing the many for the faults of a few based on mere common descent, genotype or phenotype. It would be the most vicious kind of stereotyping and generalization.

All of the murderous human regimes ended with their own immolation. The most successful, prolific, human regimes are those that punish murder and teach a code of social unity. Murderous mindclones will be something to police against, like human terrorists, for they impact our happiness, even though we are confident that they do not really have the ability to impact our civilization’s existence. For all the (quite proper) fuss made about terrorists, deaths due to bombings are a miniscule fraction of deaths due to disease, accidents and natural disasters. Our survival is far more challenged by mega-earthquakes or asteroidal impacts than by malicious mindclones or nihilistic terrorists.