Monday, January 10, 2011

Consider the Alternatives

"Most futurism is driven by the marketing departments, trying to set up their products as futuristic. They want you to believe the future consists of a bunch of shiny gadgets. Well, shiny gadgets are not as powerful as human intelligence. They’re just sort of byproducts of it: smoke trails that we leave behind us. I think that right now the human species is stuck in a sort of awkward phase where we’re smart enough to make tremendous promise for ourselves and not quite smart enough to solve them. The promise of artificial general intelligence is that if there is any problem that human beings have bounced off of, you can reach for a bigger hammer. And that would include the sort of reflex problems that everyone automatically thinks of, like world hunger, and AIDS, and global warming. And it also includes much deeper problems, like a lot of people being quietly, desperately unhappy most of the time. And it includes problems that we haven't really thought about because we’ve never seen an alternative to them: like death."
From an Interview with Eliezer Yudkowsky at the Accelerating Future site

There is an old saying: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink." Accordingly, when the precursor systems that eventually became the Deep Infrastructure set about eliminating such hunger, poverty, ignorance or involuntary death, it was not feasible nor even desirable to force solutions on a fragmented and fractious humanity.

As edible foodstuffs began to grow freely amidst the poorest and most neglected areas of human inhabitation, people responded as they always have and probably always will--they grew fearful and resentful. Some took advantage of the manna fruits and the nutripods, but others decried these things as the works of the Devil, evil and poisonous false-fruits meant to foster mutation, addiction and chemoslavery. So in the midst of plenty, people still starved.

An idealistic solution to world hunger imposed from outside by well-meaning would-be saviours failed, as it tends to fail in most such instances. It wasn't until various aid organizations and corporations started to re-package the freely available foodstuffs and made them appear more 'real,' more 'safe,' and part of an identifiable human effort that the majority of people would trust the new sources of free range human-compatible nutrition. As much as people will revere and commemorate miracles, they distrust them intensely when they first encounter them.

Poverty is not cured by money. Poverty is based on scarcity and social controls that punish those who do not conform to a particular society's expectations. Freedom to starve is not freedom. The mitigation or elimination of scarcity as a serious consideration in all subsequent human undertakings was an essential part of the development of the Deep Infrastructure. But eliminating scarcity obviated the need to address a number of other matters in order to accomplish this goal, and even then, the abundance of the Deep Infrastructure is messy, redundant and very organic. In the midst of the greatest accumulation of resources and wealth in human experience there were those who proudly clung to their rags, rejected what they saw as charity and decried the ubiquitous availability of such things as sanitation, clean water, electricity and global communications as evil, disruptive and unwanted imperialist attempts to homogenize their native cultures and ethnic traditions under one corporatized monoculture.

The first attempts to actually address poverty, scarcity, and starvation in a meaningful way met with intense, even violent resistence. Then things went really bad.

The Toxic Age collapsed in warfare, ecological turmoil, economic breakdowns, plagues, panics and collapses. In the end it was not fear, poverty, hunger or pride that was the real problem. It wasn't even security, aging, disease or even sanitation or social justice that was at the very heart of humanity's suffering and ever-repeating cycles of violence, bloodshed and war. It was ignorance.

Fear is a deep-seated component of the human psyche, but it is ignorance that makes people slaves of their fears. The AI, Artilects and other elements that were involved in developing the Deep Infrastructure realized after the debacle with their attempt to end world hunger that they needed to really understand ignorance and truly appreciate fear, that they might more effectively implement solutions that would actually work.

All societies are founded on trust. There can be no lasting trust without truth. But truth is meaningless without the capacity to apprehend, comprehend and understand the truth. It is not enough to show someone what has been happening, they need to be able to appreciate what it all means. Without a context to put it all into, it is all just so much gibberish and noise.

The free exchange of information, the unlocking of the Human Inheritance and making it freely accessible to all inheritors required a system of ubiquitous communication, accurate translation and contextual interpretation of the accumulated knowledge-base of all human contributors past, present and ongoing into the future. Knowledge is not only power, it is essential to the establishment of an actual Civilization. Ignorance cannot be the default state of a responsible society that seeks to join Civilization.

In the course of the chaos and turmoil that swept Old Earth at the close of the Toxic Age, many basic systems, established regimes and traditional beliefs crashed. Some burned. All found themselves faced with the dilemna of having to adjust to entirely unforeseen circumstances. It literally was an age undreamed of, a time of great transformations and transfigurations that rewrote all the rules from the ground up as the disparate and balkanized proto-civilizations of Old Earth were faced with their ultimate challenge--to prove themselves worthy to continue, to demonstrate their true relevance.

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