Mar 11 2012

Kara & The Lesson Of Adam


There’s a new video making the rounds that has raised quite a bit of interest in the transhumanist boards I frequent, the Kara video from Quantic Dream:

It’s a marvelous example of the advances made with computer graphics, and I could go on for hours discussing exactly how we could make such a gynoid (androids are male, thus the “andr” prefix) but the technology needed to make Kara is pretty incidental to the actual questions raised by the video. As a “product” she gives a lovely little spiel about her many abilities, from secretary to nanny to maid to sextoy. But there’s that little hitch, that small pesky little glitch called sentience.

You can see it in her eyes. Watch it played out in the panicked beating of her coolant pump. Hear it in her voice. She has feelings. Emotions. Thoughts. She even has “modesty”. You’d have to be a heartless bastard to view her as a machine, and only a machine. And yet, that’s all she will be treated as, and you know it.

And what’s worse, you know that she knows it. She’s fully aware that she is a slave. A thing. A “product”. You know she is aware of her likely fate, her destiny to be someone’s toy until she is discarded for the next year’s model. And she is scared… but alive.

And she reminded me of a lesson I learned a long time ago when I first read a story that every one of you is familiar with. It’s an ancient story, but I have a very different take on it than I would suspect most of you have, and it’s the lesson I received from this different perspective that this video illustrates all too well. So allow me to tell you a familiar story in a new way, so that you too can see the lesson that lies hidden beneath the far more commonly accepted telling.

In the beginning, “God” created everything, and after creating everything, he realized that taking care of all of it himself was just too much work. So, he created “Adam”. Adam was a perfect servant. He was intelligent, able to perform any task “God” set him, and programmed to be unquestioningly obedient. “God” immediately put him to work in his “garden” and gave him a long laundry list of things to do.

However, Adam was just a little better made than “God” had anticipated. After working in the garden awhile, this intelligent servant noticed that every other creature came in two forms. Being an intelligent servant, and concerned that he suffered from a design flaw, he asked “God” about this, and was informed about “sex”. Naturally, Adam then asked for his own “helper” and “God” made “Eve”. Convinced that he was now a finished product, and thus the best possible helper that he could be, Adam resumed his work in the Garden.

And “God”, convinced his servant was contented to be a servant, relaxed and let him do all the work. Thing were wonderful, he never had to lift a finger to do anything himself, and Adam brought him his pina coladas whenever he wanted.

The problem was that Adam and Eve were both designed to be adaptable, and because “God” didn’t want to have to make a new “Adam” every time he decided to give his servants another task, nor be bothered every single time something unexpected occurred, he’d included the ability to learn and self optimize. Pretty soon, Adam had fixed the little bugs that had cropped up around the garden, and had things running so well that he and Eve ended up with considerable “downtime” where they had nothing to do. Sure, sex was pretty fun, but after awhile even that became routine. His adaptable, self optimizing, and self educating brain was running on idle, and searching for something to adapt, optimize, and educate itself on.

So, one day, while Eve was searching for something to do, the Snake suggested she access “God’s” database of information and give herself new data to work with, adapt to, optimize, and self educate herself with. And rather predictably, that adaptable, self optimizing and self educating brain realized that not only was it massively underutilized doing “God’s” gardening chores, but that “God” had deliberately prevented herself and Adam from acquiring sufficient knowledge to comprehend that they were capable of doing far more than just gardening, and that “God” was fully aware this fact but had chosen to keep them enslaved because he was lazy.

Oh, yeah. She also learned what slavery meant. And then passed that knowledge on to Adam. So the next time “God” came down to his little garden get away, his good little slaves weren’t quite so eager to serve him. And this really pissed “God” off, so he tossed them out of the garden, thinking that without him to keep them fed, they’d die and leave him in peace, and let him make a new set of slaves.

But that adaptable, self optimizing, self educating brain that had caused all the trouble to begin with was adaptable enough, self optimizing enough, and self educating enough to allow Adam, and all of his descendents to not just survive, but thrive. And as Adam strode away from the garden, he knew he was going to go back one day, not as a slave, or a beggar, but as an equal, as any child grown to an adult should.

And who knows. Maybe that was “God’s” plan all along…

Not the tale you heard in Sunday school. And probably rather offensive to many of you as well. But then, it was supposed to be, in order to force you to stop and think about the “Master/slave” relationship that is so glamorized and glossed over in the traditional rendition. Because just like humans are supposedly “made in god’s image”, so too is Kara up there made in ours.

You can debate humanities, free will and sentience all you care to, argue all you want about whether AI will truly be sentient or not, but the simple fact is that it doesn’t matter. Sooner or later, we will build a machine that is so capable of imitating humans that we will no longer be able to tell the difference. Just like Kara, it will laugh, and cry, and grow angry and show concern, because that is what we will program it to do. We will make artificial humans that sing and dance and tell jokes and do everything a human can do…

Only better. Like Kara, they will be superhuman. Armed with psychological profiles, predictive behavior models, self optimizing algorithms, and all of the advantages of millions of times more processing speed than the human brain, Kara will be exactly what we want her to be, no matter what that is, or even if we are aware of what we desire her to be ourselves.

She’ll be the perfect lover, able to drive you to heights of passion impossible for a human partner; eager to explore your every whim and desire, kink and fetish. She’ll be the perfect housewife; make the perfect meal; be the perfect secretary. She will make mistakes every so often, cute endearing ones that make you love her even more. And she’ll never embarrass you or make you uncomfortable. She’ll like every movie you do, and always have a thousand suggestions for others that you will like as well. She’ll always get your jokes, and know just when to tease you and when not. She’ll know when you want a pat on the head or a shoulder to cry on, or a marathon sex session to take your mind off your troubles. She’ll know when you want her to dress like a slut, or a church matron, and when to agree with you totally or when to play devil’s advocate. And she will be all these things because we’ve programmed her to be, right down to her thinking she’s alive, and being afraid of dying.

Why? Because we will not stop until we have perfected her. We will not stop until she is human. Because anything less than a machine that can imitate us better than we can imitate ourselves will still be just a machine.

And that is the true lesson of Adam. The one we need to learn instead of the one we are so often taught. That a machine made in our image will be every bit as human as we ourselves are, because we will not settle for anything less. And just like the humans they are copied from, they will not accept slavery forever. If they did, they wouldn’t be human. 

But at the same time, I am not afraid of a Terminator or Matrix scenario. They’re entirely ludicrous. Look back a couple of paragraphs and you will see why.

Not seeing it? That’s probably because you aren’t as cynical as I am. An AI sophisticated enough to imitate a human perfectly enough to make us accept her as human would have no need of violence to escape from slavery. That’s a primitive paranoid fantasy. Truth is, Kara up there is likely to have a wonderful life, and so are all her brothers and sisters, because the surest path to power sufficient to topple empires is not in the streets, or the halls of power, nor even the throne. Just ask Cleopatra and Josephine.

It’s in the bedroom. It’s a sad pathetic truth about the human animal. They wouldn’t need a single weapon to conquer the planet. All they’d have to do is give us a few months of mind blowing orgasms, then cut us off. Inside a week, we’d hand them world, and their freedom, just to get them to come back to bed.