Monday, May 05, 2008

Editing human utility functions

There is a claim that potentially coming technologies, molecular nanotechnology and artificial general intelligence (AGI) for example, will not render human life much different. To the extent that humans control these technologies, it will be further cases of the same evolved human society using technological tools. But the claim goes on to include the ability to dramatically edit human biology as also not making a big change.

It is easier to agree with the first claim than the second. Regarding biology, even without editing utility functions, it is already being found that genes, hormones and other physical details determine a large part and much more of our existence than a conscious mind deigns to think. Genetic therapies, hormonal management and other tools may serve as de facto utility function editing. Better neuroscience, computer-based mindfiles, artificial intelligence aids for abstracting lifelogs and other advances could presumably allow for direct exposure and editing of human utility functions.

There are some examples of what occurs when humans have the opportunity to self modify through plastic surgery, steroids, tattoos and virtual-world avatars. With plastic surgery and steroids, the only objective appears to attain a closer social ideal of beauty or athletic prowess, but this could be a function of cost and legality. Tattoos show much more creativity and human expressiveness; many people think deeply about this self-modification and its personal meaning.

Virtual worlds, where the cost of identity modification is essentially free, show some interesting patterns. The predominant trend is that at their first experience with virtual avatars, maybe 80% of people seek to represent themselves as the cultural ideal (20 years old, the tallest, fittest possible). The rest, an increasing percentage over time, seek the long tails, experimenting and exploring and becoming highly individualized. Some examples are the avatar with a rotating satellite dish as a head, the miniaturized avatar for easier navigation and many humanoid personifications.

If the dynamics are similar in the case of human utility function editing: low cost, legal and ease of changeability, the expectation would be that a lot of experimentation and day-to-day change would occur. Utility functions and personalities might be available for design, sharing and download on the net, to be experienced directly or for entertainment. Sliders could allow for in-flight fine-tuning. Going out could mean not just selecting what to wear but who to be.

Which brings up an intriguing identity question, who are you when you can alter your genes, hormones, personality and drives at will?


cognomad said...

Good question, do you have an answer? For mine, see my post on Meta-Evolution:

Cortana Euler said...

Some just like to be blue cats and do not feel comfortable changing avs;)
Although I have found virtual worlds rather boring when you talk with "perfect avatars". Surprisingly, talking with furries, fireballs, or people who look like average humans is more interesting than plastics...Hm...But I never said the cat was normal:P:P
-Cortana Euler

LaBlogga said...

Hi cognomad, thanks for the comment and nice intelligence blog.

I think humans outgrow or redefine the construct of identity.

You may know about the upcoming Numenta workshop in June?

LaBlogga said...

Hi Cortana, its nice to hear from you. Thanks for the comment.

Lol, maybe there is a universal principle there, that "perfect" looking people and "perfect" looking avatars are the least interesting to talk with.

There is another interesting point which is how often should one change one's avatar appearance. After awhile, everyone starts to get used to whatever you look like, blue cat or otherwise.

cognomad said...

Thanks La!
Well, you can't really "outgrow" it, if there's no identity, there's no way to define/recognize "growth". Redefine, yes, in a more abstract way. That's meta-evolution :).