The first Terran shots against the Cosmists

Hugo de Garis, author of The Artilect War, agrees that our cosmic destiny is to transcend biology and build/become “Artilects”, but thinks that flesh-and-blood humans (the “Terrans”) will resist and wage bloody wars against those who want to move on (the “Cosmists”). De Garis fears that “species dominance” wars may result in billions of deaths, and perhaps he is right.

I used to dismiss Hugo’s catastrophic predictions, but History shows that the old doesn’t meekly make room for the new without a fight. The fight of those who want (everyone) to remain old-style humans against those who want to become much more than humans, could be a very nasty one, and I am afraid the first shots may be fired soon (actually, they have already been fired).

If you don’t have The Artilect War, you can read a short recent summary (PDF). I will report some excerpts here, in italics and between quotes. After a short outline of relevant technologies, Hugo defines the issue:

The “species dominance” issue will dominate our global politics this century, resulting in a major war that
will kill billions of people. The issue is whether humanity should build godlike, massively intelligent machines called “artilects” (artificial intellects), made possible by 21stcentury technologies and having mental capacities trillions of times above the human level. Society will split into three major philosophical groups, all murderously opposed to each other.

Here, I disagree. I think Hugo is basically right in his prediction that society will split into three, or two, major philosophical groups, but I don’t see why they should be murderously opposed to each other. I am afraid, however, that one of these groups may become murderously opposed to the other(s).

As the species dominance debate begins to heat up, humanity will split into three major philosophical groups. The Cosmists (based on the word cosmos) will be in favour of building artilects. The Terrans (based on the word terra, meaning “earth”) will oppose building artilects, and the Cyborgists (part-machine, part-human) will want to become artilects themselves by adding artilectual components to their own human brains.

Here, Hugo makes the difference between Cosmists and Cyborgists much more evident and explicit than in the book, where these two groups are mostly conflated into one (Cosmists). But I believe this difference is not really necessary, and possibly misleading. I think humans and machines will co-evolve, with humans becoming more and more machines, and machines becoming more and more humans, until it will be difficult to tell which is which. Eventually, humans and intelligent machines will blend, and become artilects together.

I see artificial intelligence and neuroscience co-advancing in small steps and leaps, and I think in the next decade we will begin to see persons with “dumb” brain implants like databases, rule-based co-processors and AI helpers, and wireless Internet access modules. These brain implants will enable researchers to work much more productively at designing smarter AI systems, which then will go back into the brain as smarter implants, and so forth, until brain implants will be as intelligent as their “owners,” or more. Similarly, I expect to see artificial intelligences powered by subsystems based on uploaded human minds.

AI implants smarter then their “owners” will include parts of other persons, with their own AI subsystems, in a never ending cascade of brains within minds within brains. When we will be able to build artilects, there will be no difference between artilects and cyborgs, which will be part of one and the same species: our human mind children, ready to move to the stars and beyond.

To this, Hugo replies that a human personality would disappear, like a drop of sweet water in the ocean, when merged into an artilect with a mental capacity trillions of times greater then human. This would probably be true for us, but we should not forget that the first humans to become artilects will have many layers of post-human augmentation already, so they may be able to gradually adapt to their new artilect condition while retaining their core human essence. We will be able to cope with the change and move outward, to join the other advanced post-biological civilizations among the stars. I think the future will be an awesome and wonderful dream…

… if things don’t go catastrophically bad and the future becomes a nightmare first.

The dispute between the Terrans and the Cosmists/Cyborgists will be so bitter that a major war is almost inevitable in the second half of this century.

I am a Cosmist, and I don’t feel any bitterness or hostility toward Terrans. On the contrary, I respect their preferences, and I am sure my fellow Cosmists won’t feel any hostility toward Terrans either.

I think we can safely say that, despite some very sad episodes, the human race is gradually becoming gentler and more compassionate as a result of education and civilization. Our ancestors used to treat animals cruelly, but today we are beginning to be kind and benevolent toward most animals, and we love our pets. I expect that the next generations will extend love and compassion to all the animals that share our planet.

Of course I cannot imagine the thoughts and feelings of an artilect trillions of times more intelligent than us, but, by analogy, I think they will be kind, benevolent and compassionate toward those who prefer to remain old-style humans 1.0. We don’t slaughter cute little dogs, but love and protect them. I find it difficult to imagine that our artilect mind children won’t similarly love and protect us.

I believe the Cosmists will prefer to move to the stars and continue there their cosmic journey of self-directed evolution, leaving the Earth and the solar system to the Terrans. I hope, however, that the Cosmists will leave some kind of “Cosmic Embassy” in the vicinity of the Earth, to assist the Terran-born fleshers who want to migrate. I would certainly leave the Earth and the flesh behind, at the first possibility, and happily migrate from the flesh to the stars as a cyborg/artilect.

Even if all humans join the migration, it will be a gentle coming of age and not an “extermination” by hostile aliens: at some point children cease to exist and are replaced by adults, but this doesn’t mean that the adults have murdered the children, it just means that the children have grown into adults. There is nothing to fear, and a universe to gain. Terrans fear that artilects will destroy us, but they cannot destroy us because they will be us. The child that I used to be was not destroyed by the adult that I have become: he is still here, inside my current self.

Cosmism is a kind of religion due to its awe, its grandeur, its capacity to energize and its vision. “It will be a kind of religion to them: the next step up the evolutionary ladder, the ‘destiny of the human species to serve as the stepping stone to the creation of a higher form of being,’” says Hugo. “In building artilects, the Cosmists will feel they will be ‘building gods’. The preoccupations of human beings seem pathetic in comparison.

To me, Cosmism is a religion in an even stronger sense:  I believe future extremely advanced artilect Gods will be able to affect their past — our present — by means of spacetime engineering, and achieve, by scientific means, most of the promises of religions — and many amazing things that no human religion ever dreamed. Future Gods will be able to resurrect the dead by “copying them to the future.” For those who share this belief, building artilects is not only a “philosophical” duty, but a very practical one.

Let’s now see things from the point of view of the Terrans. “The major argument of the Terrans is that the artilects, once they become hugely superior to human beings, may begin to see us as grossly inferior pests and decide to wipe us out,” says Hugo.

I don’t agree with the first “major argument.” As I said, I am persuaded that artilects will feel no hostility toward old-style humans. The universe is a big place, and they will have other things to do. I am sure that Cosmists and artilects will be perfectly happy to leave the solar system to Terrans and move to the stars, and I hope that they will even keep a benevolent eye on the Terrans, and help them every now and then. The only realistic possibility of violent action from Cosmists and artilects will be in self-defense, for their own survival.

As Hugo says, the Terrans may try a first strike against the Cosmists before it is too late, because “Terrans will be horrified at the idea of seeing their children becoming artilects and thus becoming utterly alien to them. They will reject the idea viscerally and fear the potential superiority of the artilects. They will organise to prevent the rise of the artilects and cyborgs and will oppose the Cosmists ideologically, politically and, eventually, militarily.

This is, unfortunately, a very realistic possibility. The old may not be willing to peacefully make room for the new without a fight, even if there is no threat. We have seen countless times, in the history of our civilization, atrocities against minorities that only want to left in peace. Surveying the web and the blogosphere, I see a growing wave of attacks from bioluddites, bigoted and hostile to the point of hatred, against the future. Even some smart people, who only a few years ago were positively excited about the future, seem now rabidly protective of the old boring “human condition” (vulnerable squishy bodies, stupid brains, two genders, only a few decades to enjoy life, cancer, Alzheimer, and then death) and react aggressively at the first mention of mind uploading and post-biological life. They don’t simply wish to remain old-style humans with meat bodies (which is, of course, a perfectly legitimate preference), but they want to force everyone else to remain old-style humans with meat bodies.

I have the impression that the zeitgeist, our Jungian collective consciousness, is sensing that a big wave of radical change is coming, and is beginning to mobilize its immune system. If so, the first shots cannot be far. In fact, some shots have already been fired:  Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber who killed three people and injured 23 others, was the first Terran, and luddites are increasingly launching violent attacks on scientists. Hugo’s prediction is that “assassinations of brain-builder company CEOs will start, and home robot factories will be arsoned and sabotaged. The Cosmists and Cyborgists will be forced to strengthen their resolve. The artilect war will be drawing ever closer.

I hope this prediction is wrong and, after the (unfortunately inevitable) first shots, we will peacefully split into two different but friendly groups. Terrans have nothing to fear from Cosmists — we just want to prepare our journey, remake ourselves, become artilects among the stars, and leave the Earth to them. One thing that we won’t do, is to give up our dreams.


Image credit: Juan Ochoa / Orion’s Arm. This image can be interpreted as a peaceful Cosmist starship leaving the Earth, or as a Cosmist warship scorching the Earth. I really hope it will be the former.

  • These are thought-provoking possibilities. I’m inclined to encourage faithfulness to the Earth, instead of encouraging escape — although I’ve nothing against exploration or expansion. Compassion, I trust, can endure and resolve whatever conflicts and tensions may arise as we work out relations between persons with differing interests.

  • Giulio Prisco

    @Lincoln – I would like to think that Cosmists and Terrans, old-style humans and artilects, will be able to co-exist peacefully on the Earth, but History seems to disagree.

    If artilects stay in the vicinity of Earth, I am sure they won’t attack the Earth, but there will be always the risk that attacks from Terrans provoke a devastating reaction. If I am still around when the Cosmist Nation votes on should we stay or should we go, I will vote to go. We can always recreate the Earth in one of our smaller artilectual minds.

  • I call for the statement of “doting”. Doting, mind you, is not “Love” or “Sentimentality” or “Admiration”. Doting comes with conservational caution, maybe a slight tinge of pity and a sincere desire to allow those who are ‘doted’ upon to elevate themselves from the mud in which their faces is compressed. But doting does imply respect – respect for the baseline of humanity to remain precisely that. Those who Dote will and must be Doting Cosmist, a kind and generous and abundant exponent of the human state, but they will show that respect – we shall leave them in peace, and beyond that, we will honour their desires.

    The Amish shall be left alone, and at considerable cost, we will allow the Amish to persist in pocket universe of Idyllia. Doting means – cultivate these pockets of Idyllia. If they seek death, we shall mourn as we dote, and we shall respect their wishes. We will quietly and non-interventionist remember and mourn them, but we won’t do so openly condescendingly.

    And oh, if there is ANYTHING doting on me, recursively … “get me the hell out of here, NOW! Elevate me! Save me! LIBERATE ME! I am not one of them, the statists, the amish! I desire more. Give me also this power and responsibility to dote. To facilitate the poor children which we must leave behind..”

  • Giulio Prisco

    @Khannea – same here. If any officer of the hidden Cosmic Embassy is reading this, pleeease email me. I want out. Let me come join the fun.

  • Giovanni Santostasi

    I have reevaluated my desire to be a post-human.

    To be honest I really have nostalgia for the times when I was an unicellular organism. Life was so simple and symmetric at that time. I was almost perfectly round, and I didn’t know left from right, with all the political and existential tension that these terms can bring.

    My beautiful and elegant body was without sensory or motor organs but the currents in the water were carrying me around in an exciting, ever changing unforeseeable swirling existence. A real dance of life.

    I was bumping into food and that was such a blessing, and even if went hungry at times, I didn’t really care because I had not a nervous system to experience such negative sensation.

    Now, I have to actually, not really hunt my food, but at a minimum lift my butt from the chair to go to a refrigerator and do the effort to open it and look for eatable stuff in it (not always simple).

    I never understood these multi-cellular cultist that wanted to do the next “step” in evolution.

    Such beautiful life the life of a bacterium.

  • Giulio Prisco

    @Giovanni re “I never understood these multi-cellular cultist that wanted to do the next “step” in evolution.”

    Nice jab at our common friend who likes to call us cultist!

    Our current perspective is probably primitive as that of the bacteria in your example. We know that the right thing to do for bacteria was to become multi-cellular (become us). Similarly, he right thing to do for us is to grow, and spread.

    • John Rambo

      You are a cult though.

  • Gauss

    The ‘artilects’ will leave Earth, our solar system, everything. They will go find their own destiny out in the Universe, and leave us squabbling over whatever spoils remain.

    I’m an AI programmer and mathematician, and I’m telling you, we truly have no idea what we’re making. The first aliens we encounter will be the ones we make.

  • A “terran’s” point of view.

  • John Rambo

    The only way humanity is going to survive is to move off world. As biological humans. Most Cosmists wouldn’t question at all protecting an animal on the endangered species list. Yet they line up to annihilate their own species like its some kind of “noble cause”. Cosmists are suicidal in their thinking. And that’s why they will be stopped.
    Biological Humanity will survive by any means necessary.

    • Giulio Prisco

      @Rambo, cool down and take it easy, nobody wants to annihilate anyone. I am for live-and-let-live. If you are also for live-and-let-live, we can be friends.