Monday, August 01, 2005

Personetics: the morality of cyber deities

My wife and I stopped by a book store last night. That's most unusual, it was a birthday celebration and it wasn't a chain bookstore -- so we indulged. There I happened upon an an anthology, The Mind's I (Hofstadter and Dennett). I know of the authors and in particular I like Dennett's thinking on consciousness, so I leafed through it.

It turns out the biggest contributor to the anthology is a Polish writer (he yet lives) named Stanlislav Lem. I'd heard of Lem, but despite a lifetime interest in science fiction (he does not describe himself with that term) I don't recall reading his work. I dimly recalled a reputation for a ferocious intellect and a harsh manner.

The piece I scanned, Non Serviam , was written in 1971, when cybernetics was the study of machines and AI was thought to be at most 20 years away. Non Serviam is as a book review from the future; the imaginary book concerns the controversial science of personetics:
(Personetics): A “world” for personoid “inhabitants” can be prepared in a couple of hours... A specific personoid activity serves as a triggering mechanism, setting in motion a production process that will gradually augment and define itself; in other words, the world surrounding these beings takes on an unequivocalness only in accordance with their own behavior... From four to seven personoids are optimal, at least for the development of speech and typical exploratory activity, and also for 'culturization’... It is possible to 'accommodate' up to one thousand personoids... Many different philosophies (ontologies and epistemologies) have arisen among them... I can enlarge their world or reduce it, speed up its time or slow it down, alter the mode and means of their perception; I can liquidate them, divide them, multiply them, transform the very ontological foundation of their existence...
Lem anticipates a great deal of the past 35 years of speculation about simulated worlds, the nature of our reality, the fealty owed by the created to their creator, and the nature of deity. Along the way he condenses the theological debates of the past 1000 years. He concludes by the way that the created owe nothing to their creator; he's relatively ambivalent about what the creator owes His creations, but he has little faith in the Creator's devotion and reliability.

I can't think of an equivalent writer today. Vernor Vinge is brilliant and quite entertaining, but Lem is a far more demanding author.

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