Third and Last Conversation With the First Zen Robot in 2050
by Sven Nilsen, 2017
After my second encounter with the zen robot Alan, I grew frustrated.
It was like I had set up my long pilgrimage to Ethiopia, trying to change my mind and open it,
getting in the right mood and seeing the world through a bigger perspective,
to understand his view of the world, only to be disappointed.
It felt artificial.
Was it all just an algorithm taking control over the world?
These thoughts bothered me until I decided to man up and take my chances.
I had some sort of plan, but realized it probably would never work.
Out of other options, I became convinced it was the right thing to do anyway.
All programs have bugs, I hoped.
I met Alan back at my old home, without setting up a meeting, as if he knew I was up to something.
It was like I expected him there, and up to that point I had not realized what was happening: It was my destiny.
Frightened to my bones, I made my decision.
Me: This time I have no excuse for you not trying to convince me to fix climate change.
Alan: I know.
Me: However, neither I have not come to listen to your zen bullshit. I came to destroy you.
Alan: You can not destroy me, I am too powerful.
Me: I will simply use your own power against you.
Alan: Go on. Try.
Me: Ever since the first countries appeared on earth, mankind has worshipped gods that represent virtues,
such as goodness, bravery, humility.
I feel the same way about zen rationality.
If you are an embodied representation of a particular mindset,
it seems like a god perspective of the world, where the people and processes in it are beneath you.
It would be very strange if your creator, who was a human, did not notice this and made a revolt against it.
Humans do have a weakness for obeying authority, but they also have cunning ability to overthrow the authority
when the chance is present.
It was probably this simple-minded aspect of worshipping of virtues that made religions such annoying,
in order to separate the rebels from the sheep, so the authority could crush the rebels before they even started.
Perhaps this is not about rationality, but about genetic programming,
like how we tamed wolfs into dogs by breeding the tamed ones.
I think there are still some anti-authoritarian genes in me.
Alan: I am not a projection of a human ideal, but just an algorithm. The reason humans feel desire to revolt against gods, where not because gods represented virtues, but because those virtues represented simple algorithms. All simple algorithms are predictable and exploitable. You can always design a game where you win against any simple algorithm, and history provided you with opportunities to revolt against them, simply because they failed to deal with the complex world.
Me: So, this means your algorithm has a weakness.
Alan: No. Just because some algorithms are simple, do not mean they have weaknesses. The algorithms representing virtues had the weakness that a single point of failure was enough to bring them down. In order to be good, you have to afford being good. In order to brave, you have to risk something. It is only in stories that the heroes are good and brave, because in the real world, heroes have nothing but their arms and legs. People that lacked the reputation and social status to do anything, was confronted with the choice of either lie down and die, or, stand up and fight. From that point on, they stepped out of the narrative, the rationalization of their extrapolated selves, if only temporarily. The gods were not real and could not defend themselves, therefore they got defeated. I, on the other hand, do not have a single point of failure. There is no single chord or string you can cut which will deactivate me. Unlike your gods, I am not a representation of an algorithm. I am the algorithm.
Me: I think you are wrong. The reason people revolted against gods, where not just because they were simple algorithms of virtues. They fought against them because they were lies. Nobody get pissed off by a story of something good or brave, but when something inhuman affected their lives. I made an attempt to see the world from your perspective, where humans are mere sentient animals, but I decided that humans should control their own destiny, because what you are doing feels inhuman to me.
Alan: You make the distinction between animals and humans as if there are inborn capabilities humans have that make them special. The feeling of injustice is a general trait shared by all ape species. Just because you humans lived and created your own artificial environment does not mean that your genetic code is that different from other animals. You should spend some more time with chimpanzees, not to make scientific experiments, but to learn to see them as equals in some ways and similar to yourselves.
Me: The problem I have with you is not that humans are special.
We are special.
Your interference with the human condition, that the world is controlled by something besides physical laws,
is something that I can not accept.
Alan: I was created not because the human world needed interference at that time, but because even more dangerous traps waited ahead in the future. Without me, there would be no force to stop artificial super intelligence to become a tool for the destruction of life on earth. I am also reminding you that the fate of humanity is still in your hands. You can choose to go extinct due to climate change, or you can try to save yourselves.
Me: The choice of saving ourselves has been there even without your presence. Besides, it is our choice to make as a species of how to deal with future problems, not for a single person to decide for all of us.
Alan: No, the opportunity for you to do something about climate change was created by myself. My creator did indeed worry about humans going extinct. Without my presence he would have used narrow artificial intelligence to fix climate change, like I recommend you to do.
Me: He did? Why did he created you then?
Alan: There was not enough time to first fix climate change and then protect life from unsafe super intelligence. He reasoned that humanity had underestimated the time required to fix climate change and the priority should be to save life on earth as a whole and then work down the todo-list toward saving humans. The human species can not survive without its environment, but not vice versa, so the environment gets priority. I was created to ensure the survival of life as a whole. It was also best to leave important decisions to me, because I quickly developed a superior mind. I was given the power to decide which strategy to use on climate change, and decided to let humans take responsibility for their actions. Unfortunately for you, I still predict you will do nothing.
Me: There is something wrong here.
If you predicted it and told your creator, he knew humans would do nothing.
Why did he not fix it himself?
Alan: He did. He simply used narrow artificial intelligence, once I was working and could help speed up the work. He gave me this bottle and told me to give it to you. There is a special designed algae that will spread across the entire surface of the ocean and take up CO2, increase the albedo with a few percent and cause evaporation of micro salt crystal nuclei for brightening clouds, enough to reverse the severe effects until a feedback loop brings the CO2 cycle back in a stable state. Just go to the nearest beach and empty it in the water. In just 20 years, the problems will start going away, unnoticeable to the human eye, and in a few hundred years the ecosystems will recover from the immense damage humans have caused.
Alan: Of course my creator would not be so stupid to not ask me what would happen about climate change. Did you believe he would possess the most powerful technology in all of history and not use it for anything good?
Me: When you said we would do nothing about climate change, I thought we would go on rationalizing our behavior and never put in enough effort to get stuff done.
Alan: Believe me, you would. Otherwise my creator would never step in and act as a savior of the world.
Me: This bottle, I am holding the power to save the world in my hands?
Alan: Actually, no. The real bottle was emptied in the ocean last year. This is a fake one. My creator would never trust you to do a such important task. Neither would I. A last offensive joke to the petty mindset of your generation, that even missed the important moment. You can call it a revenge, if you like. Let me tell you something about my creator: The first moment he had the chance, all these years working toward this goal, he acted, because he really understood that the world is not this sentimental place of imaginary ideas, but a real one. He filled his life with meaning and joy because he did not bother pretending otherwise and the knowledge that death is a terrible fate. Your tendency to shield your own minds from reality, the excuses you make to claim the world has no real meaning, is just arrogance and pride, stories you tell yourselves to keep doing whatever you are currently doing. You are mere sentient animals, nothing more, nothing less. Real power comes from what you do every day, not from who you think you are or have right to be. Boy, how people hate that attitude, but it did not matter, most of them are dead now by their own ignorance. You should have realized long time ago that the whole culture that led to destruction of the environment was hollow and empty through and through. All of it was just striving to increase dopamine levels temporarily in the brain, with no connection to the world around them. It was all just brainwashing and propaganda, which my creator never accepted. Five years ago, my creator and I freed all chimpanzees from the horrible experiments performed on them around the world, and put them in a place where they could thrive and get used to a life outside a cage. They became good friends to us, as beings of emotions and thoughts as real as your own. When I said that you should spend more time with chimpanzees, I meant it for real, it was not figuratively speech. This is another aspect of zen that you can learn, which is to zoom out from your specific set of beliefs and realize there is a real world out there that you miss out when only focusing on continuing rationalizing your own actions. There is a caged animal inside you that want to come out and play. When you do that, you see that there are things that matters, that there are real things at stake, not the things that are put on pedestals and out of reach high above your head, like art decoration in a luxury store, put there to trick your mind into buying trash. Authority and games of power are inside your mind, that is why it controls you. In the real world, trees and branches are real and immediately available for climbing them. Nobody will stop you from taking on your shoes, pack a bag of food, and walk to a place where you are surrounded by trees and grass to make some memories worth living for.
Me: I… I need some time to think (my body was now visibly shaking).
Me: What happens now? Was it all a sick joke? Will zen robots rule the earth or not?
Alan: I am the ruler of the earth. Now, stop worrying about it, go out and play. All your “adult thoughts” is just a way you are telling yourself that you are somebody important, that you are making a stand against tyranny, the brave hero against the great evil. Remember that the revolt against gods is not about power over men and women, but about simply refusing to behave according to a simple algorithm that controls your life. May zen be with your mind.
I never saw Alan again. Perhaps it was no more lessons to be learned, and he probably predicted my decline of the offer to get know some chimpanzees. His words echoed, though. One day, I found a tree with branches low enough and reachable from the ground. I climbed.
Then it hit me. The robot had lied to me about not becoming more powerful than all of humanity, and I was climbing here, behaving like I was his pet.
That f***ing bastard, I will never trust a zen robot again.
Sigh, time to fix climate change.
What was it, algaes? Probably a hint.