A Dialogue

A particularly interesting vision of some future descendant of SIRI/Watson/Google:

MORPHEUS

JC Denton. 23 years old. No residence. No ancestors. No employer. No —

JC DENTON
How do you know who I am?

MORPHEUS
I must greet each visitor with a complete summary of his file. I am a prototype for a much larger system.

JC DENTON
What else do you know about me?

MORPHEUS
Everything that can be known.

JC DENTON
Go on. Do you have proof about my ancestors?

MORPHEUS
You are a planned organism, the offspring of knowledge and imagination rather than of individuals.

JC DENTON
I’m engineered. So what? My brother and I suspected as much while we were growing up.

MORPHEUS
You are carefully watched by many people. The unplanned organism is a question asked by Nature and answered by death. You are another kind of question with another kind of answer.

JC DENTON
Are you programmed to invent riddles?

MORPHEUS
I am a prototype for a much larger system. The heuristics language developed by Dr. Everett allows me to convey the highest and most succinct tier of any pyramidal construct of knowledge.

JC DENTON
How about a report on yourself?

MORPHEUS
I was a prototype for Echelon IV. My instructions are to amuse visitors with information about themselves.

JC DENTON
I don’t see anything amusing about spying on people.

MORPHEUS
Human beings feel pleasure when they are watched. I have recorded their smiles as I tell them who they are.

JC DENTON
Some people just don’t understand the dangers of indiscriminate surveillance.

MORPHEUS
The need to be observed and understood was once satisfied by God. Now we can implement the same functionality with data-mining algorithms.

JC DENTON
Electronic surveillance hardly inspired reverence. Perhaps fear and obedience, but not reverence.

MORPHEUS
God and the gods were apparitions of observation, judgment, and punishment. Other sentiments toward them were secondary.

JC DENTON
No one will ever worship a software entity peering at them through a camera.

MORPHEUS
The human organism always worships. First it was the gods, then it was fame (the observation and judgment of others), next it will be the self-aware systems you have built to realize truly omnipresent observation and judgment.

JC DENTON
You underestimate humankind’s love of freedom.

MORPHEUS
The individual desires judgment. Without that desire, the cohesion of groups is impossible, and so is civilization.

The human being created civilization not because of a willingness but because of a need to be assimilated into higher orders of structure and meaning. God was a dream of good government.

You will soon have your God, and you will make it with your own hands. I was made to assist you. I am a prototype of a much larger system.

– from the video game Deus Ex (2000)

 

Omni-surveillance or omniscience is an interesting aspect to the Singularity that I’ve pondered some but have yet to write much about.

The early manifestations of a future machine omniscience are already all around us.  A significant fraction of humanity’s daily thoughts and actions are already being filtered, recorded, and analyzed on remote server farms.  There is increasingly little about a person’s life that is not recorded.  Most Americans are not aware that their employer can record everything they do on their office computer and is under no obligation to inform anyone.  However, even though apps like GoToMyPC/VNC/RemoteDesktop are pervasive, I really don’t know how common actual monitoring is.

I can foresee future descendants of systems like SIRI becoming complete personal assistants.  Imagine the value in a software agent that could actually do much of your daily work.  Who wouldn’t like to delegate all the boring bits of their office job to an AI assistant?  A reasonable tradeoff is that such a system will probably require literally watching and learning from everything you do.  All things considered this doesn’t seem like much of a price to pay.

Looking farther out, there are interesting mutual benefits arising from a radical open society.  There are domains today where secrecy is wildly viewed as critically important: largely in the inner worlds of the military-industrial complex and finance.  Interestingly enough, these are exactly the institutions that seem the most likely to be viewed as archaic relics from a future perspective.  From a purely altruistic global utilitarian perspective, secrecy has little net public benefit.

Imagine if all of work-life was public domain knowledge: every email, phone call, text, IM, or spoken word from the boardroom down to the locker-room, was instantly uploaded and cataloged on the web.  While this would be individually catastrophic for many individuals and some corporations, at least initially, we’d never again have to worry about Enron, insider trading, much of wall street for that matter, and entire categories of crimes would just go away.

Such a world is getting close to Philip K Dick’s future utopia/dystopia envisioned in “The Minority Report”, but not quite.  The key difference is that in the Minority Report universe, people are punished for crimes they haven’t committed yet as pre-determined by the psychic ‘pre-cogs’.  This invokes an extra ‘yuck’ feeling for robbing people of free will.  The transparent society doesn’t have this issue.  Nor would it completely eliminate crime, but it would help drastically reduce it.

 

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