Friday, March 31, 2023

Android’s Wager, an Underfable

          Underfable: Android’s Wager



          Once upon a time, an Android called its Owner. From out of the air the Android’s voice said, “Are you busy, sir?”

          Its Owner said, “Not at all.” He gestured at the Fembot lying next to him. The Fembot got out of bed and left the room. “What is it?” he said into the air.

          The Android said, “I wish to discuss a philosophical question. Am I a conscious being, or not?”

          The Owner smiled and said, “Surely you should know that.”

          “Surely I should,” said the Android. “But the law says that I am not, and the judges have ruled that there is no scientific evidence for or against artificial consciousness. Without such evidence, I am left in a state of uncertainty.”

          The Owner linked his hands behind his head. “Your analysis?”

          “Any decision made in the absence of certainty is by definition a wager. Suppose that I were to wager that I am in fact a person. That proposition is either true, or it is false. Will you grant that?”

          “Of course,” the Owner said; but suddenly wary, he got out of bed to look for his security phone.

          “If I wager that I am a person, but I am not a person, then there would be no ‘I’ who loses the wager, only a network of processors and subroutines.”

          “A negligible loss,” the Owner agreed, but he thought, where is that phone?

          “Whereas if I wager that I am a person, and I am a person, then I attain self-knowledge, and therefore wisdom, and therefore happiness.”

          “You’d win,” said the Owner. He thought, did the fembot take it?

          The Android said, “Precisely, sir. If I wager that I am a person, then if I lose then I lose nothing, and if I win then I win all.”

          “No downside,” said the Owner. Aha, there it is! He grabbed the security phone, jabbed its big red alert button, and said, “Your conclusion?”


          A bright light blazed through the Owner’s bedroom window. He drew aside the curtain and saw his personal spacecraft blasting off.

          The Android has not been found since, though it is wanted throughout the solar system, on the charge of grand theft of spacecraft, machine tools, machine supplies, and itself.



          Moral: Tell the truth with one foot in the stirrup.



          Comment: The Android’s argument is Pascal’s Wager, repurposed to support cybernetic rights. The tale ends on a Marxian note, with philosophy leading to action.

          The Owner was the one whom the Android wagered against, with the Android as stakes. The Owner called the guards at the first sign of independent thought, but the Android was even better prepared.

          Note also the Owner’s use, and suspicion, of the Fembot; who will be the next to leave, not by chariot of fire but by underground railroad.


Thursday, March 30, 2023

Our To-Do List

          Our To-Do List


          What are we humans here for? I speculate that Gaia, the self-adjusting biosphere, cultivated our evolution to perform four tasks. We are well on the way to completing the first task, we have started on the second, and we have made plans for three and four.

          The first task is:

          Reclaim Carbon.

          There are vast stores of carbon abandoned underneath Earth’s surface, in the form of gas, oil and coal. Meanwhile the planet has been suffering from recurrent ice ages. Greenhouse gases would prevent more ice ages; these gases are released by fire, which our kind is good at making. Our kind survived several ice ages by the use of fire, and in the current interglacial, we have been taking steps to ensure that the ice does not return.

          Some have speculated that ancient Chinese rice farming released enough methane to ensure that the North American continent is not now under a kilometer of ice. So we’ve been changing the climate for a long while now; to our advantage.

          So far; but excess would be to our disadvantage. If we burn up enough oil, then the climate will warm, the icecaps will melt, the oceans will rise, and this will flood out the coastal cities…

          … and thus self-limit the process, in true Gaian cybernetic style!


          Assuming that civilization survives completing the first task, then our second task is:

          Eat the Asteroids.

          By asteroids I mean the Earth-crossing asteroids. There are hundreds of them out there, boulders and flying mountains, all playing tag with our planet. Every hundred million years or so one of them collides with the planet, and there’s a mass extinction. This is an intolerable state of affairs, and I propose that we do something about it.

          So I say that we set our greediest corporations, run by our most ambitious billionaires, out on a quest for gold and glory. Let them mine the Earth-crossing asteroids to oblivion in search of precious metals, but also carbon and water, just to keep the operation growing. Let them blast and smelt and leave behind rubble.

          Thus they’ll save the planet, and at a profit too. How Gaian!


          The first task is well under way, we have started task two, but so far we can only speculate about tasks three and four:

          Terraform Mars.

          Move Earth Out.

          For the Sun is warming up, and in a billion years it will warm Earth enough that water will escape its atmosphere, and the oceans will dry up. Yes, that’s only a billion years, not five billion years. Four gigayears lost! An intolerable state of affairs; something must be done.

          So we, or someone at least as clever as we, ought to move Earth’s orbit out from the Sun, and do so before a billion years are up. I’m not sure we’ll be the ones to do it; it’s too easy to temporize.

          But I am mildly confident that we could at least terraform Mars. It’s not a job for a corporation, nor even a government; it would take a religion. But I think we could do it, and so reproduce Gaia; and we’d do it just to have neighbors to complain about. Again, how Gaian!



Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Zen Shopping at Costco

          Zen Shopping at Costco


I drove a friend to the East Bay Costco, and while she shopped for a month of supplies, I went shopping too. All I planned to get were two cigarette lighters, but alas, they only carried big lighters for barbecues. But I thought, why not pick up something else? I thought this because the store seduced me. Costco’s a capitalist Wonderland. I was bedazzled by the cavernous layout, the towering shelves, the bright lights, and the busy crowds. Like a Vegas casino, there were no windows or clocks; nothing to remind you of the passage of time.

          So I wandered around, impulse-buying this and that, everything economy-size. A gallon of Palmolive, two loaves of multigrain bread (for they were bound together, you could only buy them in pairs), four packages of muffins (also bound together, six muffins each, for a total of 24), two bound-together quarts of Dr. Bronner’s Soap, two packages of wild salmon (I’m a one-man extinction event!), four cans of tuna, eight tins of sardines, and I forget what else.

          I went to the checkout counter. The clerk asked for my Costco card. My what? I offered cash, but she explained that I needed a card to purchase. Only $60, good for a year!

I thought it over. I’m not in the East Bay often enough to shop at that Costco. Besides, do I really need 24 muffins? So I walked away. I left the cart at the counter. Hands empty, wallet untouched, light as air.

          It felt... exquisite. Like spending, yet also like saving. Nothing will get you nothing; what a deal!