Isaac and Kari – Part 2 of Isaac’s Escape

This is part 2 of a series that so far is only called “Isaac’s Escape“. Isaac lives in the world of the early-2030’s. Computation is on a steep rise now, the world is transcending into a digitzed world of super-intelligences, but transcendence is not entirely equal. The majority of people are too enthralled by the magic of the age to look forward, few realize that they are stuck in an endless loop of consumerism designed to power an ever-hungry economy, even fewer realize that only the rich have access to the real magic. Go here to read part 1

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“What the fuck Isaac. Do you have many things we have to get in order?”

Isaac rolled his eyes, how ironic it was that his digital assistant had enough intelligence for sass, but not enough to spend his allotments for him?

Isaac was picking his way through a bustling street, everyone with something to do and somewhere to go. Mostly people were wearing the same fashionable clothes and running a fashionable amount of biofeedback to keep them fashionably smiling. Usually Isaac would be just as immersed in his own fashions, rushing off to another store or another appointment. But today was different,  Isaac was trudging along with his furrowed brow and day old clothes. Today he was out of his element. 

What to do next?

“You see? This is why I muted your feed, I knew you were going to be like this. We just won the fucking lottery Kari, how’s about a little cheer?” Isaac subvocalized.

Kari piped a cheesy midi tune through Isaac’s auditory nerve, “Hooray, hooray for Isaac” chanted Kari, her words dripping with sarcasm before she abruptly halted the tune “Are we happy now?”

“Ok, I get it” Isaac replied.

On one level Isaac found Kari’s constant sarcasm eternally agravating, but deeper down he must appreciate her counterpoint otherwise the self-correcting algorithms underpinning her personality would have muted her sarcasm somewhat. Kari’s personality mostly boiled down to a reflection of elements of his own personality. The assistant that knows you better than you know yourself, or so the company that sold Kari claimed. 

While Kari might not be what some would consider strong artificial intelligence, she was certainly indispensible to Isaac. With her computational expansion capabilities, she was able to access digital resources to accomplish whatever kinds of computational tasks he might assign to her.  Kari could offer advice, negotiate a contract for him, or digest his email and explain it to him.

“What exactly do we need to deal with?” asked Isaac narrowly missing a collision with a man dressed in furry one piece suit.

“Well first of all, we need to authorize dispersion of your funds into various entities for safekeeping. There is a hard time limit on the intelligence provided by the transfer insurance company. In the next few hours the funds will become dead information, and will will begin to diminish, they could also be open to attack. 

“Attack?” exclaimed Isaac incredulously.

“You have a significant amount of wealth now Isaac, you could easily become the target of a malicious entity” Kari said dryly, “you need to think about purchasing a citizenship in one or more computational trusts. I have already solicited several offers from interested firms, and here they are.”

Isaac finds himself staring at a numbers and symbols scrolling along at the bottom of his vision and trying his best to remember what the hell a computational trust was.

“Remind me why I want to put my money into a computational trust” said Isaac, stepping thoughtlessly out into traffic. 

It was a good thing that he was distracted by his conversation, he usually couldn’t help a slightly nauseous feeling whenever he stepped out into the busy traffic of automated cars. In his mind, he knew that it was perfectly safe to just go ahead and cross the street, but he had never been able to shake the programming of his youth. The speed and routes of automated vehicles would be subtly altered in an elegant computational dance to create a safe bubble around him as he crossed. Still he just couldn’t help always looking both ways – another useless artifact from a disorganized age.

“Computational trusts are technically corporations. They exist at the bleeding edge of accelerating technological change, developing advanced technologies and gathering energy and resources to maximize their digital capacity. They allow individuals to invest wealth in exchange for both access to computational resources and equity in the corporation.  By buying a citizenship in a computational trusts you are assuring that your wealth is invested in the safest asset there is, computation.”

“So its like buying some stocks” said Isaac, referencing an archaic game that some history buffs still liked to play.

“In a way yes, but a computational citizenship is much, much more. It will give you access to computational resources that we have never been able to use before. It will certainly make me more capable.”

“Now I see why you want me to buy into it” scoffed Isaac.

“It doesn’t really matter anyways, there simply is no other option. Wealth of this magnitude needs to keep moving, the CT’s are the only entities capable of protecting and growing this kind of wealth today. If you do not buy in you will simply end up back in the same place you were yesterday. The data is conclusive, computational trusts are the only means to effectively invest in technological advancement today.”

The crowds had thinned out around Isaac as he entered a park which was mostly empty of people. The trees looked so calm as they swayed gently in the breeze. There were a few people relaxing in the grass, likely enveloped in some sort of virtual worlds. Isaac wanted so badly to just relax too.

“Ok, so what are our options then?” asked Isaac.

“I have put word out that we are looking for computational citizenship and after looking over your digital history we have received offers from 4 companies. There is Google, Applesoft, Wave and BioMark.”

“I don’t really want to sort through this right now. Can you just tell me which one I should choose Kari.”

“Basically, I would suggest that you go with BioMark. They have offered you a special rate as they feel that your story might be of some marketing value. And anyways, you can always sell your citizenship back.”

“I get the feeling there might be no going back on this Kari” said Isaac, breathing in deeply.

“You might be right,” replied Kari. “perhaps I should purchase some computational time on a public server to crunch the numbers on this a little longer”

“Yes, maybe we shouldn’t rush into things, let’s do that.”

And with that, Kari was gone, the majority of her off running simulations somewhere to try to determine what he should do. Isaac stared blankly out at the calm scene in front of him. Green grass covered hills, sloping gently against the backdrop of a bustling metropolis. He could feel his heart beating hard in his chest. He really had no clue what the implications of his decisions today would be, but he knew that the rest of his life would change because of them.

Isaac closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind.

“Ok, I’m back” Kari’s voice popping any calm he had managed to gather.

“That was way too quick”

“You would be surprised how quickly you can run simulations when you have access to the latest quantum enabled 3D-processor clusters, and anyways it was a waste of time.”

“It was…?”

“Well, essentially I can’t access the resources necessary to predict what will become of us when we get access to the immense resources that are available to a citizen. It is a sort of personal singularity. We will be changed, that part is sure, but I cannot predict what is going to happen”

“So we still have no idea what to do, but we either join one of these trusts or in a few weeks we will end up back where we were yesterday?”

“Exactly”

“Ok, let’s do it”

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The King has No Clothes: The Psychological Threat of the Singularity

First we had to realize that we were naked. Then slowly, with bent backs and strain, generational toil wove the garments of our birthright, our dress of self-importance. 

The history of the human race can be viewed as a story of the exponentially increasing power in human hands. From the simplest stone tools to the smartphone, technology has always served to better the power of humans to realize their dreams. In the 20th century, this process reached apogee, with focused ingenuity and effort we literally reached to the moon and connected together the minds of the planet. We were capable of anything.

As a species and as individuals we were assured of our self-importance.

But now times are changing, we stand on the cusp of a new revolution. We are creating artificially intelligent machines that will better realize the needs and the dreams of man. Yes, this will of course serve to extend and continue the chain of betterment, delivering yet more power to the hands of the individual, but I also think an important distinction must be made for we will no longer be realizing our dreams, rather our dreams will be realized for us.

While to some it might seem an overly academic or semantic point, as to whether we realize our dreams or have our dreams realized for us, the psychology of this could not be more important. It is the difference between the self-made man (or woman) and the lottery winner.

On one hand we have the achiever, at his heart he is a rational actor imparting himself upon the world. His life reinforces the view that our actions have merit, and that our decisions matter. He is why we believe that hard work can makes success, and that we have the power to control our own lives.

On the other hand, we have dumb luck; the lottery winner, the born-rich, the untethered. His life reminds us of the happenstance of the universe and us mere victims of the fortune or misfortune that should happen to float our way. It is a sad fact that this kind of good luck offers little happiness to those who receive it, people thrive on earned success not that which is given out too easily. We need to struggle for our victories.

While our world has always found itself balanced somewhere in between these two extreme philosophies, I wonder whether the future might tip us disastrously towards the psychology of the lottery winner. If and when we live in a world wherein everything that we have ever dreamed is made possible by the power of artificial intelligence, will it also destroy our will to want anything?

How can human beings hope to retain their robes of self-importance, in a world wherein their accomplishment means little in the face of ever smarter, ever-more powerful artificial life. Our self-assuredness is based entirely on a view that we are of value to the world, that we can change it. The singularity threatens to collapse this view entirely, leaving us as cold and exposed as we ever were. 

Humans need to believe that the king has clothes, without struggle and success we have nothing left.  

Taken from a different angle, the question is this: What happens to human will as struggle dries up? What do we have to offer to a dream world of digital efficiency? 

Ultimately, it seems to me that humans are so hopelessly addicted to conflict that any world we create will require a certain dose of synthetic strife. We will seek to recreate both our happiness and our sorrows. If we cannot even envision a story which does not involve conflict, how can we hope to live in a world without it? 

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I just want to point out that The Matrix was a great movie. Also this speech by Alan Watts is quite relevant. 

Thought infection is still looking for its first guest poster. If you have an interest in futurism and you would like to try your hand at writing for a growing blog, send me an email at thought.infected@gmail.com

The Upside Down Economy

A message blinking in his peripheral vision roused Isaac from a light sleep.

A familiar symbol was flashing, below it was the single line of glowing text.

“You have been accredited for contribution.”

In and of itself, this was nothing unusual small accreditations for this or that were getting pretty commonplace these days. He focused sleepily on the message, this triggered the link to carry him through for more information, materializing what looked like a sheet of paper appeared floating in front of his face above his bed.

He blinked incredulously at the digits at the bottom of the page. 300 microbits? It must be some sort of mistake. He would have enough to pay his rent for years with that. Hell, he could probably buy the place for it. This couldn’t be right.

He pushed further into the document. Apparently an accreditation agent had identified several comments he had made to a thread on the future of medicine some time in 2014.

2014? That’s ancient history… these accreditation bots just keep digging deeper, thought Isaac.

His comments had been deemed second order attribution status for several innovations made by BioMark.

He could not believe it, how could he have had any impact on one of the largest companies in the world.

Comments, what comments? Of course he couldn’t remember some comments he had made over 15 years ago on some archaic website.  His thoughts pulled him seamlessly through the document and into an archived version of the Reddit comment history for the user name “SmellingBee”.

How clever, he snorted and rolled his eyes as an irresistable smile crept across his face. He was lost for a moment in nostalgic memories of being a young student in the thundering teens. The tone of the room changed subtly, reflecting his mood, memories sublimated into memorabilia fading slowly into existence. A movie poster, a television, a smart phone. The objects of a simpler time, a bygone era. He could hear an old favorite song somewhere.

Apparenly SmellingBee had made some predictions on the future of biomarkers and their role in the medicine of the future. The words flashed across his retinas.

The smart bathroom will be as important as the smart phone to the future medicine. Think about it, if you want to figure out what is going on inside of someone you access to something from inside their body. People don’t want to give blood or tissue, but they can’t help shitting and pissing all the time.

The smart bathroom will know more about your body than you will, and it will be a medical revolution.

He remembered the comments only hazily. He like so many others had been overtaken with excitement for futurism back then, surely this was only one amongst thousands of comments.

Of course, he wasn’t the first to come up with such an idea for a smart bathroom, the Japanese had been experimenting with it for years by 2014, but the digital record showed no signs that he had been exposed to these ideas. As far as the accreditation agent could identify, evidence indicated that he had come up with the idea independently. More importantly the digital record also showed that Noah Marks himself had first come across the idea of a smart bathroom in his post.

His heart accelerated. Noah Marks read my comment? The founder of BioMark, the company that ushered in the true age of smart medicine? Isaac could hardly breathe.

A glossy review of the history of BioMark began playing on his wall.

Noah Marks started BioMark in 2014 as a small medical app company in his garage. His first apps collected simple data on blood pressure and body temperature and provided a conduit for doctors to access patient data. The first BioMark breakthrough came as the company applied new artificial intelligence algorithms to the huge amounts of medical data they were collecting. With this, BioMark developed a proprietary algorithm to predict heart attacks several days before they happen.

The field of medicine was transformed overnight, with BioMark at the center of the revolution. Our software and algorithms quickly became integrated into the fabric of every insurance plan in the country. The rates of heart attacks plummeted, and the IPO for BioMark was the largest in the American history.

A picture of Noah Marks shaking hands with the president of the United States slid across his wall. 

The next wave of BioMark breakthroughs came with the release of smart bathroom technologies. Within a few more BioMark provided the data necessary to cure many diseases including intestinal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, depression, among others. 

BioMark, delivering you to the future

The cheesy byline was accompanied by images of healthy looking old people smiling. By this time Isaac wasn’t paying attention anyways, he was excitedly pacing back and forth in his small room, head down and thinking rapidly.

It might be small, but he lived comfortably. And anyways, it did not seem so small when on only a whim he could change the aesthetics to put him in any place he might want to be. He could as easily live in a 15th century castle or on the surface of mars.

Isaac’s life had until now been a very typical one for the late 2020’s, spending his hours coming up with creative ways to meet his spending allotments. He was the product of the turmoil of the early 2020’s, the time known as “the upset”. A time when the automation of the economy had reached record levels and finally left the majority of people out of work.

In response to this the governments of the western world had finally realized people were far more important to the economy as consumers than as producers. Seemingly overnight, swift changes were made to implement a clever plan of Mincome for all of their citizens.

People would receive money without the need to work, but this money did not come without its own chains. People were now required to meet daily, weekly, and monthly spending requirements. For the health of the economy, people were legally required to spend a significant proportion of their days making strategic spending decisions. The luxurious lives of the privileged few in the 20th century, was the trap of the 21st century.

The robotic economy could produce all the goods that humanity could want, but it needed people to create the demand to keep that economic engine running. So, people whiled away their days endlessly browsing consumer goods, entertainment, travel, luxury goods, trying their best to meet their spending requirements; stuck on a treadmill of receiving money and finding creative ways to spend it.

The only way to exit the endless loop of spending was either to pay someone else or hire an artificial intelligence agent of sufficient power to spend in your stead.  These options were too expensive to be available to the majority of people. Average people might save what little was left after they met their spending requirements, in hopes of one day retiring from spending, but it seemed that fewer and fewer could afford it every year as spending requirements constantly inched up to feed a growing economy. 

There were of course those who had the resources to outsource their spending, those free to spend their time working. Once inside, workers earned more than adequately to pay for outsources spending AIs. Those on the inside, stayed inside. The world had turned upside down, but somehow all the parts had stayed in the same place.

Power still flowed up an economic ladder without rungs in the middle. Those in control stayed in control, and everyone else did what they were told. This is how it always was, and how it stayed. 

But 300 microbits, that would change things for him. He could easily afford to lease the computational resources to pay for an AI to meet his economic obligations. He was free. Isaac threw on some dirty clothing from the day before and walked out of his door.

——–

In thinking about the future automated economy many see the institution of some kind of a “Mincome”, or basic income, for all people as already a forgone conclusion. If we take this to its logical extreme and imagine a world where nobody needs to work but everybody needs to spend, what does this world look like? This is the first in what I hope to be a recurring series following the life of Isaac in the world of the upside down economy.