Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Lesser Creator; In Dog We Trust

A recent debate about science fiction got me to thinking about the Singularity. In a nutshell, this is the point at which technological change moves so quickly that humanity as we know it is left behind. In a lot of models, artificial intelligence becomes a (often frightening) reality.

The question of how super-smart machines would choose to treat people got me thinking about this:

What would a religion that assumed that the Creator(s) of its followers was inferior to those followers, rather than vastly superior to them, look like?

In this scenario, creation, at least of intelligent life, is not the purview of a supreme being, or even of godlike beings arranged in some pantheon, but of some lesser being or beings that built something greater than themselves.

In other words, what if established religious doctrine taught that human beings were created by creatures on the order of chimpanzees? Or dogs? And there was a widespread religion that believed this? How would humanity treat its own origin story? How would they view their creators? And how would this shape the nature of their religion? Are there any religions out there with a central tenet like this?

This sprang to mind because to the kinds of hyperintelligent machine constructs envisioned by Singularity supporters, their human creators would look pretty pathetic in terms of their capabilities. But it would still be obvious that the machines owed their creation to these lesser beings.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Final 2008 Presidential Debate

Just finished watching the third and final presidential debate.

My most significant impression was simply that Bob Schieffer did a rather poor job as a moderator. He let McCain interrupt constantly and allowed him to get the last word in repeatedly, even when McCain was misrepresenting facts with his final statements.

For example, McCain slid in the claim that the United States has one of the highest business tax rates in the developed world, without Obama getting the chance to make the counterpoint that the sheer number of tax breaks and shelters available to American businesses greatly reduces the actual tax rate. That was simply annoying.

Then there was the low comedy of McCain following up the points about the negative ads by going on the attack with cheap shots about the most irrelevant aspects of Obama's past. Real hypocrisy at its best.

Obama seemed quite calm, dignified, and eloquent throughout; McCain seemed impatient and testy. For someone claiming that he can build bridges and be a major statesman, it seemed ironic. They were both fairly repetitive, but I thought if McCain said Joe the Plumber any more times, I'd go crazy.

More thoughts later, perhaps, as I digest things.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Wayne Identity

Having recently watched a couple of the Bourne movies and seen the ads for the new series My Own Worst Enemy, I got to thinking back to the themes of implanted identity and false memory in Alan Moore’s great Miracleman series. And this is what it sparked.

As a boy, Wayne’s first response to the deaths of his parents in a terrorist attack was to retreat into a shell. But then he tried to dedicate himself to becoming a one-man army, a weapon aimed at those who traded in fear and the lives of innocents. He spent years using his considerable inheritance to buy exceptional training in spycraft, forensic psychology, weapons, and unarmed fighting techniques.

Ultimately, he failed. Whatever singular obsession was needed to keep him focused on his goal, whatever mental quality that would let him go back and forth from stone-cold vigilante back to upstanding member of society, he didn’t have it, wasn’t in that special two-percent of the population that could flip that switch.

Then he learned about the offshoot of MK-ULTRA designed to program operatives into agents functioning at the peak of human efficiency. Photographic memory. Submerged alternate identities that could be assumed while under cover. Heightened situational awareness. Chemical cocktails and nerve grafts designed to enhance neurological connectivity and processing speed. Immediate threat assessment and response at an unconscious level. Conscious control over autonomous functions. Mind over matter. The program had failed as well. But Wayne sought out the surviving minds behind the project and made them a deal: restart their work with full funding, on one condition. Once they perfected the process, Wayne himself would receive the treatment.

That was years ago. Today Wayne seems like a contented man, a self-help guru whose company markets a variety of very successful psychological aid products. But he conceals a demon inside of him, one unleashed by the symbol of the silent nocturnal hunter that the project ingrained in his subconscious mind. Wayne knows about the existence of the Bat, but has no memories of what his alter ego does.

He also knows that the project was destroyed, and that the Bat was at least partly responsible for its demise. He sees stories in the news of strange, twisted men and women who prowl the night dressed as clowns and cats. He sifts through some of the files he was able to retrieve, about some of the test subjects—the ones who volunteered, and those who never had a choice. He wakes up with strange scars and the charred remains of a playing card resting on the nightstand. And he knows that he is fighting the monsters he helped create as well as those from other dark places.

At his mansion he sometimes hears voices at the back of the wine cellar, coming up from a sub-basement that isn’t on the blueprints, whose entrance is concealed even from him. He knows there are people down there, in the dark, waiting for him and his orders. Or for the dark avenger that wears his face. He tries not to think about it.

If he knew about how some of the scientists from the project had returned to their original patrons to apply the project’s results, how they had used their findings to trap a being of immense power in two fabricated personas, one a mild-mannered reporter, the other an alien emissary, so that no one outside of a few handlers can even find him, much less unleash him—if Wayne knew all that, he would be very afraid indeed.